Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chicken Potpie for those cold wintery nights dinner!

Potpies, which in their most common form are simple stews of meat or poultry and vegetables baked inside a pastry crust, have an all-American air about them. But they're actually an evolution of the freestanding meat pies once so popular in medieval cookery. From the Middle Ages through the 1600s and beyond, women all over Europe arranged their grains, vegetables, and occasional bits of meat inside sturdy crusts that they would carry to the town's communal oven for baking. In the baronial kitchens of England, cooks loaded tremendous pastry crusts with minced pork, veal, chicken, rabbit, and venison.

The English brought their pie-making enthusiasm with them to the New World, where hearty pies of deer, rabbit, and wild herbs helped sustain thousands of new arrivals in the perilous fledgling colonies until vegetable crops could be planted. Settlers brought chickens with them to Jamestown in 1607, and the birds multiplied with biblical force. Their tough hearts, gizzards, and livers were chopped, liberally seasoned, and baked in pastry crusts made from flour, water, and lard: a dubious, early American rendition of chicken potpie.

This potpie takes a little time to make but the end result is so delicious and hearty. I baked this in a vintage ironstone china soup tureen for a gorgeous presentation. A 3 quart casserole or souffle dish will work just fine.

The recipe is as follows:

1/3 pound of Puff Pastry

5 T. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

5 T. unsalted butter

1 large onion, chopped

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces

12 oz small cremini mushrooms, cleaned & stems trimmed

1/3 cup cognac

2 cups of chicken stock

1 cup of milk

5 cups of poached or roasted chicken, torn into 1" pieces

1 cup shelled green peas

2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 T. fresh thyme leaves

3 teas. coarse salt

1 teas. freshly ground black pepper

At lease 3 hours before making this, roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 3/16" thick square. Place on a baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour. Remove chilled dough, place on a cutting board. Directly onto the dough, invert a bowl or place a lid that is 2-1/2 to 3 inches larger than the diameter of a 3 qt round casserole or souffle dish. With a sharp knife, cut around the bowl or lid so that you have a circle. Return circle of dough to the baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours.

Place rack in lower 2/3 portion of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. In a large heavy-bottom pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, potatoes and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are fork tender, 10-12 minutes. Add mushroom, cooking until heated through. Add cognac and cook for 30 seconds.

Add flour, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in chicken stock and milk. Bring to a simmer, cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in chicken, parsley, thyme, salt & pepper.

Transfer to tureen (casserole or souffle dish) and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. The filling should just come to the top of the baking dish.

Now make an egg wash by combing 1 large egg, 1 egg yolk and 1 teas. water and whisk together in a small bowl. Remove dough circle from refrigerator, and brush surface evenly with egg wash. Invert dough and place directly over the casserole, pressing lightly to seal overhanging crust to the sides. Brush top surface of dough with egg wash. With a 1/2" large round pastry tip (#7), cut a small circle in the center of the pastry, removing the pastry circle, and insert the pastry tip, narrow side down, into cut-out hole. This allows the steam to vent.

Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes; cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent crust from burning, and continue baking 25 minutes more. Serve piping hot from the oven!