Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie...and the goodness of a basic pastry crust

Though a chicken pot pie is some serious comfort food, it also has culinary flair by dint of a tender, flaky crust and a Suprême Sauce binding the filling.  Regard making it as a delicious means of learning some basic culinary techniques!

Makes one 9 inch pie and one 4 inch ramekin

See here for instructions to make the broth and the cooked chicken for this recipe.

  • Flour, white, 1.5 cups*/215 grams
  • lard, 1/2 cup*/108 grams
  • Salt, 1/4 tsp
  • Water, iced, a few Tbls
  • Chicken, cooked, chopped, 3 cups*
  • Peas, fresh or frozen, cooked, 1.5 cups*
  • Carrots, cooked, chopped, 1 large
  • Cream, 3/4 cup*
  • Broth, 1.25 cups*
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated, a large pinch or two
  • Butter, 4 T
  • Flour for the roux, 5 T
*American cup size, 8 oz.


Pastry board or smooth work surface
Rolling pin
Spatula, long, thin, metal, flat or offset
Parchment paper
9 inch pie plate (2)
Ramekin (2), 1 1/2 cup* size, oven proof
Wire whisk 


The night before, reserve about an half of cup of water in the fridge.  Keep the lard cold but not frozen.  Though I heard that lard gives the best results, when I lived in America shortening ruled and lard was hard to come by.  Delightfully, that is not the case in France.  However, it seems lard is making a come back in the States.  See Related Links below to find substitutions for lard.

The next day start the filling followed by the pastry crust.  Chop the carrots into approximately 1/2 inch mince and toss into a small pot of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the peas and simmer for about another 5-8 minutes, testing for tenderness.  Drain and reserve.

Melt the butter and add the flour gradually, stirring all the while.  Cook over low heat for a minute or two to get out the raw taste of the flour.  Traditionally the proportion in a roux is one to one for flour to butter, but I find that I can get away with less butter, hence 5 T flour to 4 T butter.

Pour into the pot as gradually as possible the chicken broth all the while stirring until smooth.  Use a wire whisk to get out any lumps. The substitution of chicken broth instead of milk makes the sauce at this stage a Velouté instead of the basic white sauce, Béchamel

Then stir in the cream.  With the addition of cream, the sauce now is a Suprême Sauce.  (One could say French sauces are a bit inbred. Add a touch of freshly grated nutmeg.

Simmer until nicely thick.

Then add in the peas, carrots, and chopped, cooked chicken. Salt per taste. Reserve covered in the pot off the heat.

A flaky, tender short-crust pastry is not something most will do fairly well at first go.  My first attempt decades ago resulted in a crust resembling cardboard in texture.  I then went into the opposite direction--it was so crumbly that the finished pie looked more like a patchwork quilt.  Eventually I got it right, but I must confess each time I make a pastry crust, I wonder if the quality will be OK.  But, it always is.  The nicest compliment I have received regarding my baking is when a friend whispered to me over the table that my pie crust is better than her grandmother's.  You too will be able consistently to turn out both savoury and sweet pies/turnovers that will delight your friends, family, and guests.

For something that needs just a few ingredients--flour, fat, water, and salt--the difficulty lies solely in the technique along with the understanding that since the age of flours differ, the older will be more absorbent, the younger less so.  Therefore, the addition of the right amount of water becomes challenging.

Mix flour and salt into a bowl.  Quickly cut the cold lard into small pieces and add.  Delia Smith goes against the consensus of using fat that is cold--check out her approach in Related Links at the end of this post.

Using your fingers, work the lard into the flour till there is a coarse mixture of mostly pea-sized pieces.  This should take no more than a few minutes--work fast and lightly.  A food processor can be used for this step by pulsing it several times.

Tablespoon by tablespoon add the ice water.

Immediately after each tablespoon, get those fingers underneath the mixture to make sure that no water is pooling there.  Your fingers need to search out any soggy bits which is a warning sign that you are adding too much water.  It usually takes 2.5 to 4 tablespoons when I make pastry dough which is quite a variation.  Right in the bowl, press the dough into a ball like mass from time to time to see if there is enough cohesion without the need to add any additional water.  Sometimes all that is needed to get that final bit of moisture is to wet your fingertips, and then touch any remaining dry bits.

When properly moistened, dump the contents onto a pastry board.

Knead lightly--no more than five times--into a ball.  Put in the fridge for at least 10 minutes; 30 minutes may be better to encourage elasticity. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F/220 degrees C

While the dough is chilling in the fridge, pour the filling into one 9 inch pie plate and one ramekin.  Have an empty pie plate and ramekin handy for cutting templates.

Remove the dough from the fridge and put it on a moderately floured board.  Flatten and flour it lightly.

Using a light and quick touch, roll it out which should take about a minute or so.  Starting with a back and forth motion, I then work from the centre, rolling it out all around the perimeter. Lightly dust the rolling pin and dough to prevent sticking.  The more flour is used, the less tender the crust will be, so lightly is the word.  It is entirely permissible to lop off non-needed dough and attach it to the places where it is needed.  Place another pie plate on the circle as a template and cut all around about an inch from the template.  Gather the scraps into a small ball and reserve in the fridge for latter rolling out for the ramekin's pastry top.

A long, narrow spatula (looks like a long, thin knife with a blunted end) is then used to loosen carefully the dough circle from the board.  Some roll the dough out on waxed paper which I have never used so I can't vouch for its effectiveness in ease of transferring the circle off the board.

Fold in half and slide on the pie plate with the filling, placing the folded edge right smack in the middle of the pie plate as you will not be able to adjust placement once it is unfolded.  Unfold. 

Tuck under dough so it does not overhang the plate.  Then make a decorative, fluted edge by using your left thumb and index finger on the inside perimeter to support the dough via indenting with the right index finger on the outside perimeter.  Slash to allow the escaping of steam during baking--start with the longest one in the centre and then work out to the sides with graduated smaller slashes.  Roll out the smaller circle to top the ramekin, using the spare ramekin as a template.  Any remaining scraps can be shaped into a small round and place on top of the ramekin.  Slash the ramekin pastry.

Put the finished pie and ramekin on a shallow baking pan lined with parchment paper to catch spills and make cleaning easier.  Put in oven for about 30 minutes, rotating it half way for even baking.  I need to do this though I use a convection setting which supposedly ensures even browning.

Remove when nicely browned, and let stand for about ten minutes before cutting so as to let the filling solidify a bit.

Bon appétit!


Roasted Broccoli Parmesan Bechamel Broccoli soup
Velouté de Carottes
Making Chicken Stock with Whole Chickens


Delia Smith short crust pastry instructions 
(How to roll out circles, squares, and oblongs, sifting flour and mixing from up high technique to increase lightness, not to mention the heresy of using room temperature lard/butter!)
Rose Levy Berenbaum’s fabled recipe for perfect short crust pastry at Joe Pastry
(All butter dough with additional cream cheese and a more complicated technique resulting in a superb pastry)
Joe Pastry's Standard short crust pastry
(Similar to mine but calls either for vegetable shortening or lard)