Chicken pot pie is the ultimate comfort food. The key to a successful one lies in the amount of chicken you use (lots), perfectly cooked vegetables and the crispness of the pastry.
There are four ways to cook chicken for a pie:
1. Poach a chicken (about 3 lb or 1.5 kg) by placing the whole chicken in a large pot. Pour in a package of low-sodium chicken broth and add water to cover. Add a few bits of onion, carrot and celery, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Let the chicken cool in the broth, then cut into chunks. Reserve the broth for the sauce and cooking the vegetables. One chicken makes enough for a pie for six.
2. Bake four seasoned chicken breasts on the bone – bones make meat more flavourful – in a 425 F oven for 30 minutes or until just cooked. Cool and remove meat, discarding skin and bones.
3. Sauté seasoned skinless, boneless chicken thighs in oil for 15 minutes or until just cooked. Cut into pieces.
4. Buy a rotisserie chicken, skin it and cut the meat off the bones. Or use leftover chicken from another meal.
My favourite vegetables for pot pie are onions, carrots, rutabaga, leeks, mushrooms and green peas. Except for the peas, cut the vegetables into even-sized pieces and boil in the chicken broth until al dente. Cool, then stir into the finished sauce along with the peas.
The sauce should be thick, but not gluey. It is important to cook the flour and butter mixture (roux) until golden before adding any stock. Stock can be homemade (reserved from the poached chicken) or store-bought, preferably low-salt. Add herbs of choice – I like tarragon – or other flavourings, such as garam masala or pesto. For a richer, even more delicious pie, add ¼ cup of whipping cream to the stock. The chicken should be cut in 1- to 2-inch pieces, depending on your preference.
Making pastry is not essential if you can find decent frozen puff pastry. If possible, look for a pastry that is made with butter.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Heat ⅓ cup unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in ⅓ cup all-purpose flour and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups chicken stock, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or (2 teaspoons dried) and 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind.
Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce is thick and glossy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in peas and vegetables and then the cooked chicken. You will need about 8 cups of filling. Season well. Transfer filling to a medium-large baking dish. Set aside.
Roll out puff pastry to a ¼-inch thick, making sure it’s large enough to cover the dish. Place pastry on top of the dish and crimp the edges. Cut a steam vent on top and decorate with any extra pastry shapes. Brush with an egg beaten with some salt.
Bake pie for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling bubbles. Serves six.
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