The sky is crying here in the City of Angels. It plans to continue to weep for the remainder of the week. Knowing this in advance, I stocked up on all sorts of fun ingredients at the market so I could stay in as much as possible and give myself loads of neat-o kitchen projects.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I didn’t exactly have traditional meals growing up. Things like meatloaf, spaghetti & meatballs, lasagne, Stove Top stuffing, casseroles, macaroni & cheese, hot dogs, “taco night” or “pizza night” did not exist in our house. Rather, they were replaced by swordfish steaks, schezwan string beans, oyster stew, sautéed baby bok choy, bulgar salad, olive sandwiches (don’t ask), tabouleh, "Anarada Rice", seared sea scallops in fish sauce and Sriracha, spaghetti squash and grilled portabella mushrooms. Although, mom baked a mean apple crisp and dad whipped together the world's best egg salad. They both still do.
As a result of the unusual cuisine served up by my folks, I often craved normal food and embraced it when dining at my friend’s houses. I even really liked frozen dinners. Hell, I even liked (and still do) cafeteria food. One standard in both frozen dinners and cafeteria fare is chicken pot pie. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t get a glimmer in their eye when they are eating it. It seems to elicit some specific, visceral memory for everyone.
I remember when I was about 9 years old – living in a house on the South Side of Richmond with my mom, a friend/roommate of hers and her two sons, who were around my age. And their dog – a German Shepherd. I can’t remember any of their names anymore and I don’t think I was that wild about them either. The boys were really into GI Joe and Transformers. I was really into My Little Pony.
Anyway, my friend Kelly came over one afternoon to play. We were really into making pretend radio shows and recording them on tape with songs peppered in. I believe Let’s Hear It for the Boy and Smooth Operator were a few of the gems in there. I believe we were also, shall we say, obsessed with Breakfast Club (who wasn’t?). For some weird reason, my mom fed us pot pies for dinner that night (highly unusual) and, as a result, we could not stop repeating and recording, “Go fix me a turkey pot pie!” I also think we said, “film at eleven” a lot, which makes absolutely zero sense. Ah, youth.
What I wouldn’t give to hear that tape now. Hell, what I wouldn’t give to lay eyes on that old school ghetto blaster again.
This is me in that house, around that era.
The thing is I have not had too many pot pies in my time. One or two of the Stouffer’s variety, as in the story above, a few cafeteria versions here and there, and a particularly awesome one at Atlanta’s famed Collonade restaurant. Their crust is actually a big, flaky biscuit atop the creamy, decadent insides. In fact, that may very well be the last pot pie I can recall eating - and that was 10 years ago – until last night.
I had some leftover pie crust that my mom made for a pecan pie in the freezer, I had chicken, I had cute, little green ramekins. Chicken pot pie just popped into my head. Interestingly, I scoured through my fairly extensive cookbook collection only to unearth precious few recipes. They all called for carrots, celery and potatoes. I had no carrots or celery. Rather than scuttle off to the store in the rain, I looked into my fridge and decided to use what I had to come up with my own recipe. The sage, mushrooms and brussels sprouts added a rich, earthy flavor and the crème fraiche, rather than cream, gave the insides a thickness but kept it more solid than stew-like.
My rainy, blustery night, listening to Elmore James, in my pine cone jammies, with a generous glass of Bordeaux, and my pot pie: this was perfection. This will be the pot pie that elicits my specific, visceral memory in the future.
Film at eleven!
Chicken Pot Pie
(Loosely adapted from Bon Appétit October, 2007)
Makes 4 individual pot pies
(Pie Insides)4 applewood-smoked bacon slices
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
1 cup chopped brussles sprouts
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh sage
½ teaspoon dried mint
¼ cup red wine
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
½ cup milk
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
1 lb. chicken breast – bone in, skin on
2 Tablespoons butter
½ cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon dried tarragon
½ Meyer lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons shortening (chilled)
2 1/2 to 3 Tablespoons ice water
Sift flour, sugar and salt. Add chilled butter and shortening. Work quickly using fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal
Sprinkle on ice water, 2 tablespoons at a time and toss with fork. Turn dough and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape into a ball and wrap in wax paper--chill in refrigerator for 2 hours
Preheat oven to 350F. Dredge chicken in flour, tarragon, salt and pepper and brown all sides in butter in cast iron skillet. Place chicken in casserole dish, squeeze lemon over the top and roast for 20-25 minutes. Remove chicken and let cool. Remove meat from bones and coarsely chop.
Up the oven to 450F. Cook bacon in the cast iron skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Chop bacon. Add onion to drippings in skillet; sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients; sauté for 5 minutes. Add herbs and stock; bring to boil over high heat. Add wine and reduce heat to medium-high and boil until vegetables are almost tender and some liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup crème fraîche, milk, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper. Divide among four 2-cup soufflé dishes.
Roll out pastry to 12-inch square. Cut into 4 equal squares. Top filling in soufflé dishes with pastry; fold edges down onto rims of dish. Brush top of crusts (not edges) with remaining 1 tablespoon crème fraîche. Cut small X in center of crusts; pierce all over with fork. Bake until crusts are golden brown and filling is heated through, about 25 minutes.