November 8, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie with Individual Puff Pastry Biscuits

I love chicken pot pie! I should specify, not the TV dinner variety. Made carefully, it is actually not only delicious and a wonderful hearty dish for fall and winter, but it is actually fairly healthy, with the chicken as lean protein and all the vegetables. In addition, the sauce is mostly broth and cooked down wine that has been slightly thickened with a small amount of flour and butter- and flour is not solely starch, as is cornstarch, but flour contains a component of protein, so it's not all bad! What's so nice about a well executed and delicious chicken pot pie is that it is a one dish meal and many of your children will like it also. Our little boy loves to eat the filling and pieces of the puff pastry as well. The pieces of chicken and vegetables are at just about the right size for him to pick up and put in his mouth himself (when he's not eating chevre!).

I started making this chicken pot pie last year, and after some variation, I've settled on a great recipe that leaves you plenty to freeze and the way I do the puff pastry makes it possible to serve it very easily without getting sauce on top of the pastry!

For the Filling:
Olive Oil (roughly 2 Tablespoons)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms (or dried mushrooms that have been soaked in warm water for 30 minutes)
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 1/2 - 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 stick of butter (unsalted)
4 Tablespoons flour
2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
3/4 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the Puff Pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 stick butter (unsalted), cut into small cubes)
ice water (roughly 3 Tablespoons)

To make the puff pastry, combine the flour and a few pinches of salt in a food processor. I prefer to use sea salt. Add the pieces of butter one at a time until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, until the dough comes together, the amount of water may vary. Gather the dough together and wrap in saran or cling wrap, refrigerate at least one hour.

If you don't have a food processor and you are interested in making pastry, you might consider getting one. Until about three or four years ago, I didn't have a food processor. It wasn't an appliance my family had and used growing up, so I didn't see it's purpose. Honestly, once I had one, I started using it a lot! The thing that I find the most surprising and helpful is pastry dough. It comes together so, so fast in the food processor that it literally takes MINUTES to make. Not only can you make this type of pastry dough, you'll be able to make dough for tarts and pies and cobblers, too!!! I love mine so much that my biggest problem is that I probably need one that has a larger sized bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. I use a large dutch oven for this dish. Add the onion, mushrooms, carrots and celery, saute until wilted and some light browning has occurred. This dish is more flavorful if you use a variety of mushrooms, not just fresh white mushrooms. Porcini, for example, will give it a very meaty flavor. If you are using dried mushrooms that you have soaked in warm water for 30 minutes before chopping, save that liquid and use it as your stock (or part of your stock if there isn't enough). Mushrooms have an amazing, meaty flavor that can really add depth. Add the garlic, either through a press or finely chopped. Add the thyme leaves, you may also use fresh, but if you are using fresh, double the amount. You may also add other herbs if you like, rosemary and sage, for example, would be great additions to this dish. Saute the mixture for a few minutes once you have added the garlic and herbs, then add the wine or vermouth. If there are any browned bits stuck to the pan, the wine or vermouth will help get them up and include them in the dish. After most of the liquid had evaporated, add the stock, either mushroom, vegetable or chicken, or any combination of all three. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the butter and flour slowly, you may need to whisk the mixture to avoid clumping of the flour. Adding the flour slowly and stirring will help.

The chicken may be prepared either while you are making the base of the filling or before. Cut the chicken breasts into strip pieces roughly an inch or two wide and as long as the piece of meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry at medium high heat until both sides are nicely browned. It is alright if the inside is not totally cooked and slightly pink. Once cooled, chop into small pieces.
The chicken may now be added to the filling, which should have a nice, slightly think gravy consistency. If the mixture is too liquid, add a little more flour and cook for a few minutes more. If it is too thick, add a little bit of stock. Once you have added the chicken, you may also add the peas, corn and heavy cream. Allow to heat thoroughly, then turn off the heat.

To prepare the individual puff pastry toppings, heat the oven to 425. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and using a rolling pin (I prefer a French pastry rolling pin, that is the kind that is all one piece and has tapered sides), roll on a floured work surface until roughly 1/4 inch thick. Use either a ravioli die, which is what I use, or a cookie cutter or a glass to make individual 'biscuits.' A rectangle shape is your best bet, just because it will allow you to cover the top of the dish the most efficiently. Place the cut out 'biscuits' on the baking sheet with parchment paper. (Optional, brush with beaten egg yolk). Pierce the biscuits several times with the tines of a fork. Bake for 10 minutes.

To Finish up this great, comforting dish, spoon the filling into either a casserole dish or individual dishes. Place the 'biscuits' on the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 425. When you serve the dish, remove the 'biscuit' first, spoon the filling onto the plate, then place the puff pastry back on top.
To freeze: Do everything but baking it at 20-25 minutes at 425. Freeze. When you are ready to take it our of the freezer, either defrost it in the refrigerator for one day and then follow the same directions, with possibly a few more minutes in the oven (depending on the size of the dish, etc.). Straight out of the freezer, bake it for 45 minutes at 375.

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