Teal really like chicken pot pies. However, I find them to be typically bland, pasty and just not worth the calories. So on a cold, dreary late fall day, Teal asked if we could make pot pies. I took up the challenge: to make a pot pie that is actually worth eating.
The engineering mind took over. I was thinking about what makes them so boring? The answer is, there is a lack of caramelization, too much goo (a.k.a “gravy”) and few if any spices. So, I set out to correct these deficiencies and add a few twists. I started with a small batch of 4 servings figuring I could scale it up later if they turned out. These are still not “health food” but still better than what you will find in the frozen foods section of your local store. If the steps below seem like a lot, remember that each is done while you are chopping the next. It is an efficient use of your time.
3 large carrots, washed, scraped of dark spots and cut into ~3/8″ pieces
2 medium onions chopped to about the same size
1 large pinch of dried thyme crushed
1 pinch of savory crushed
1-2 tsp sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the carrots in bacon grease (about 1 TB) for 3 min on med-high heat so they just barely start to brown and then add the onions. Keep stirring until the onions are thoroughly translucent and soft. Then dump them out into a large mixing bowl and heap into a pile while mixing in the thyme and savory, 1 tsp sweet paprika as well as salt and pepper to taste. Heaping will conserve the heat and keep them cooking. The carrots should be slightly soft at this point.
Leave the pan on the stove, off the heat. Other veggies can be added, but Teal prefers that we stick to the basics (certainly no celery or parsnips). 1-2 small (sweet) potatoes might be acceptable, but we were out. At this point, the fry pan is sticky with bits of the veggies – these will come off as the chicken (below) cooks.
1 package – about 1- 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Remove connective tissue, and excess fat. Chop into 1/2″ pieces.
Dredge the chicken in 3-4 TBsp flour with 1 tsp granulated garlic. This will be a sticky gooey mess. Chicken will be coated but not “dry”.
Add 1 TBsp bacon grease to the pan. Then add the chicken and saute until lightly browned and tender. Stir to break up the pieces, but pause enough to let each side brown a bit. We use thighs as they can withstand the higher temps needed for browning, while staying tender unlike breast meat. Once browned and tender, remove from the heat and dump into the bowl with the veggies reserving any left-over grease. Note that at this point, the chicken is completely cooked and food safe if you want to save these for later.
Sauce / gravy
Pot pies need some sauce, but not the pasty white stuff you often see. It needs some flavor from our friendly Maillard reactions. This starts with a browned roux.: 3-4 TBsp flour, 1-2 TBsp bacon grease. Stir over medium high heat. All of the flour should be coated and thick (and not runny). Now cook, while stirring constantly, until it is a light caramel brown. Next whisk in 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock until it thickens and is smooth with no or minimal lumps.
Add 10 oz frozen baby peas to the veggies and chicken, then add the sauce and stir gently to mix.
Divide the mixture into four approximately 5″ wide oven proof ramekins. Cover with a thin layer of pie crust. Our favorite is: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-single-pie-crust-recipe .
A typical single crust recipe will have a lot left over. So you will have the opportunity for odd shaped pie crust cookie snacks – cover with cinnamon sugar and bake with the pot pies. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 30-40 min until the crust is crispy. Remember to remove the snack pieces before they burn (about 10 min). Let the pot pies rest about 15 min before serving.
With the added flavor of the caramelization, high proportion of veggies and herbs, even I like these pot pies. They will now be one of our winter staples. The pies can be frozen par-baked, so the crust starts to set up and then heated and served.