Chicken and Tarragon Pot Pie – with shortcuts!
Lately I’ve felt like I”m circling the drain. My second favorite coffee mug is a big beast covered with the repeating words, “Get Up. Go To Work. Go To Bed. Get Up. Go To Work. Go To Bed.” That’s rather apt. More often than not I wake up before the cock has even considered a crow, I get home when it’s dark outside again, and by the time that we’ve made and eaten dinner it’s time for bed. Again. Rinse, drain and repeat. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING that will buy me a bit of time is becoming increasingly popular. Freezer meals, therefore, are my new best friend.
I should probably warn you that this isn’t the kind of cooking that you want to do on a Tuesday night. I can say that with confidence, because *of course* I chose to do this on a Tuesday night, and promptly regretted that decision. Mind you, I had T minus three hours to get pastry cut and pies assembled and baked, and it could be that I doubled the recipe (therefore making 16 pot pies instead of 8), and there is a possibility that in the middle of the pie making process I took a call from a good friend and lost about 45 minutes of prep time. That could be, but this still isn’t a Tuesday night kind of a meal. Consider yourself warned. Find yourself a Sunday afternoon to strap on the apron and hum yourself silly though, and you will be happy to reap the rewards for meals to come.
Pot pies are the perfect freezer meal, because you can assemble them in bulk but still make twee little individual servings, they cook from frozen in barely more time than fresh, and they take all the guess work out of dinner. Can you even imagine not driving home while playing a game of, “What can I make for dinner that isn’t cheese and crackers or canned soup?” Or better yet, thinking, “Today I’m going to watch television LIVE, because dinner is going to take care of itself.” Oh, the power. Oh, the GLORY!!
You might be thinking of chicken pot pie as a strictly winter meal, but I promise you that it’s not. With tender leeks, chock full of vegetables, this tarragon scented and lightened up chicken pie is gloriously spring-like but still hearty enough to get you through those late March woes and bitingly cold rain storms.
Now I know that isn’t going to be incentive enough. I know that you’re about to scroll down and wonder what in the name of Hay-zuss is wrong with me for thinking this is a feasible way to make dinner, but that’s why I bring you……get ready for it……..SHORTCUTS! WHEEEE! You can take the long road, or you can take the road which is plowed all winter and worn down by a stampede of hungry people. Either way, I won’t judge.
Tarragon Leek and Chicken Pot Pie – with shortcuts!
Makes 7-8 pot pies, depending on size
- 2.5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1.5 sticks (12 tbsp) butter, ice cold
- 1/2 cup shortening or lard, ice cold
- 2 tbsp vodka
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup ice water, as needed
- 1 egg, well whisked
- 1/2 onion
- 2 small cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 large chicken breasts (about 3/4 lb) *
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 large leeks
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small bulb fennel
- 2 medium carrots
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 heaping tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp dried tarragon
- salt and pepper to taste
* Bone in chicken breast (preferably skinless) is even better as those bones will add plenty of flavor to your stock, and it’s not exactly tough beans to separate the meat from the bone when it is cooled.
Start with the pastry. In a food processor pulse together the flour, sugar and salt until everything is well mixed in. Cut the very cold butter and shortening into small cubes (about 1/4 – 1/2″) and add them to the flour.
Pulse the mixture in short two second bursts about six times, or until you have a crumbly mixture that looks a bit like sand or parmesan cheese. Mix the vodka with 1/3 cup ice water (the colder the better) and slowly drizzle it in while continuing to pulse a few times. The mixture should start clumping together and pulling away from the center spin. Squeeze a small bit with your fingers. If it holds together well then the pastry is perfect. If it cracks or looks a bit crumbly add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is workable. Keep a fairly light touch on that pulse button though, because you don’t want to turn your pie dough into a puree.
Turn the dough out onto your work surface and knead it gently 2-3 times while forming it into a firm mound. Cut the dough into two equal pieces (you see 4 pieces below because I doubled the recipe, as I am wont to do). Press each piece into a flattened disk and wrap it tightly with wax paper or plastic wrap.
Tuck the dough in your fridge to chill for at least an hour, or up to four.
Shortcut 1: Use 1 package (2 portions) of store bought puff pastry to make the crust. Simply thaw the pastry and keep it chilled until ready to use.
To poach the chicken, peel an onion and two small cloves of garlic. Chop the onion into quarters and add these, along with the bay leaf, peppercorn and salt to 2 cups of water in a small to medium sized saucepan. Bring the water up to a simmer before sliding your chicken inside. The liquid should be higher than the chicken so that it can poach properly, so if your pan is too large you will need to add a bit more.
The chicken will need to poach slowly in simmering water for 18-20 minutes, or until the flesh is firm and the chicken is just cooked through.
Shortcut 2: Buy a seasoned and cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or deli. If you go this route you will also need to follow shortcut 3 and spare yourself the effort of home made chicken stock, however fast it may be.
Peel away any broken or damaged leaves on the outside of your leeks. Cut the leeks roughly in half on the horizontal. For the tender white and pale green bottoms, quarter the leek and chop into half inch moons. From the tougher dark green half, peel away the thickest exterior leaves and chop the core into quarters and then half inch moons as well.
Leeks are filthy little buggers, so rinse the pieces quite well under cold running water and pat or spin them dry.
Heat the oil up in a fairly large pan set over medium heat. Mince the garlic and saute this along with the leeks for a few minutes until the leeks are softened.
In the mean time, peel the carrots and give them a nice small dice, about 1/4 inch each. Cut the fronds from the top of the fennel and remove the bottom core. Cut the fennel into small chunks about the same size as the carrot.
Add the rest of the vegetables to the garlic and leeks and continue to cook until the carrots are just tender, about 7 minutes. Season the pan with salt and pepper and take it off the heat to cool.
Now then, the chicken has been poaching long enough, don’t you think? Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and set it aside to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, chop it into a small dice.
Pour the poaching liquid through a wire mesh strainer and discard the solids. Now take that lovely quick chicken stock that you just made, pour it back into the pan – set over medium high heat this time- and boil it until it reduces to about 1 cup of liquid. This will only take about 10 minutes, but my friend, that will be some flavorful stock you have there and well worth the effort.
Shortcut 3: Use 1 cup of good quality purchased chicken stock.
Heat the butter in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan set over medium heat. When the butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Let this mealy mixture cook together for 2-3 minutes, or until the color just starts to darken into a pale golden brown.
Slowly pour in the milk a half cup at a time, whisking constantly as you do so. As soon as the first glug of milk is completely absorbed and the mixture is thick, continue to add another half cup and the mustard. Whisk this together and glory in how thick the mixture looks. That won’t last. Slowly add the rest of the milk (and whisk, whisk away!) and the reduced chicken stock. At this point you should have a very thin, milky sauce.
Whisk in the tarragon and season with salt and slightly more fresh black pepper than you would expect. Simmer the sauce, whisking occasionally so that it does not burn on the bottom, for about 10 minutes or until it is thick enough to comfortably coat the back of a spoon. Don’t worry if the tarragon gathers at the top when the sauce is weak, because it will slyly ingratiate itself through the mix when things have thickened.
Fold the cooked vegetables and cubed chicken into the sauce. Set this aside to cool down to room temperature, giving the pot a stir every now and then to speed things along.
On a lightly floured surface roll out your first dough into a large flat with even thickness. For pie crust, the uncooked pastry should be in that lovely half ground between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.
Set your pot pie container on top of the dough and cut all the way around with a finger’s width of gap so that you have some folding room.
I like to freeze potpies in those lovely little mini disposable foil pie plates (which I totally reuse, because, well, hell. Why not?) but the ones that I’ll bake immediately go into ceramic cookware of roughly the same size. French Onion Soup bowls work marvellously.
Gently lift the pastry dough (a bench scraper is a useful tool) and place it on top of your filled dish. Crimp the edges however you see fit to make a nice seal on the pie, and stab a few wide gashes in the lid so that steam can escape. Brush the top of the pastry with a bit of that well beaten egg.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Place the pot pies on a lipped baking sheet before tucking them into the oven, because you don’t want to have to negotiate through any spillage on the lower deck. Bake the potpies in the center of your oven for 35 minutes, or until the top is a luscious golden color and the juices have bubbled up through the vents on top.
The little bit of work to get these assembled is well worth it when you think of those other pot pies just waiting for you in the freezer. When you come home late from work, cranky and exhausted, all it takes is a pop in the oven and you’ll have plenty of time to chop a lovely fresh salad and pour a glass of Pinot while your dinner takes care of itself. What could be better than that?
Or maybe I’m just a sucker for flaky pastry and creamy sauces. That’s always a possibility too. A very likely possibility.
Whether you make your own flaky and flavorful pastry or use buttery puff pastry, and whether you poach your own chicken or go for the equally viable option of a quick rotisserie chicken and store bought stock, this is a family pleasing meal that warms belly and soul on a cold, wet night. I feel like freezer chicken tonight, indeed.