Food — Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty
Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty

By Amy Diaz

Meat, veggies, a crust...voila, a meal Be they chicken, turkey or ham, pot pies are darn tasty

A flaky buttery crust can hold more than just dessert.

Pie. The word may conjure up images of tart berries, cinnamony apples or sweet creams but pie, the crust-covered pan, is a perfect way to make a meal that keeps meat and vegetables all in one easy-to-make, easier-to-clean dish. It’s the oven equivalent of chili — comfort food that is hearty, warming and leftover-friendly.

I admit that as a kid I always had a secret affection for those frozen chicken or turkey pot pies. Individualized meals, their overly salty gravy and suspiciously geometrically-shaped meat chunks seemed the perfect marriage of healthy and junky. Also, every now and then you’d get a pot pie that was missing or at least seriously deficient in peas which, to my picky 9-year-old self, meant less to pick out.

As I got older, I was introduced to homemade pot pie. At first glance, it seemed a little daunting, after all you had to make pie crust and cook chicken before you even got to the part where you assembled the final product. But now I realize that the very things that made chicken pot pie seem so time-consuming to build from scratch actually make it the perfect quick-fix food.

Pot pie, an anatomy

There are two basic parts to any pot pie:

1. The crust

2. The filling

The best crust for a pot pie, the one that will offer top performance of crust duties, is the basic flour-and-shortening crust. I’ve seen fancier versions involving some combination of bread crumbs, mashed potatoes and any number of other starchy products but the standard pale ball of fork-mixed dough works best.

Daunting? Time consuming? It needn’t be.

There are any number of ways to cheat on a pie crust. If you sense that a pot pie (or any pie, really) is in your near future, you can construct the crust, form it into the pan, cover it and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. For top crusts (or if the pan you plan to use is occupied by another creation), roll the dough out into the size you need and place it on wax paper. Then, cover the top of the dough circle with wax paper, gently fold in half, wrap with plastic wrap (or place it in a zip-lock bag) and refrigerate.

The even easier way is to buy a pre-made pie crust, which you’ll findin the refrigerator or freezer section of the supermarket. The freezer versions require a little extra effort — you have to thaw them before use or they will crack like a brittle windshield on a sub-zero day — but are perfect, inexpensive additions to your shopping cart if you have plans for a big, special-occasion meal.

Why?

That brings us to the second part of the pot pie — the filling. The start-from-scratch recipe (well, almost scratch; my recipe uses canned soup) has you cooking chicken and steaming vegetables, which are mixed together and added to soup. But wait, look in your refrigerator. Remember that turkey dinner you made on Sunday? Or the chicken-fried steak you made yesterday? Or the honey-baked ham you bought just in case you had surprise guests but never used?

The formula for pot pie filling is cooked vegetables, cooked meat and sauce. This means that those Tupperware-stashed remains of yesterday’s dinner aren’t just leftovers, they’re pie filling.

Designing the innards

With the simple vegetable + meat + sauce = filling equation, you can create a variety of pot pies with surprisingly little effort.

The requirements for pie break down accordingly:

Meat: You need the equivalent of two healthy servings of cooked meat that you can cube or otherwise chop into smaller pieces. Baked, broiled and boiled meats work best for this.

Sauce: You need about 2 1/2 cups of liquid the consistency of gravy (something thicker than broth but not as thick as, say, melted cheese). Any can of the “cream of” soups (chicken, mushroom, broccoli, potato, etc.) with about 1/2 cup of thinner liquid (stock, broth, water) will do. So would a marinara sauce or chili. Add spices, olives, garlic and/or cheese to adjust the flavors — though keep in mind that cheese will, as it melts, thicken the consistency of the sauce.

Vegetables: Here is an opportunity not only to get rid of leftover vegetables but also to finally thaw and use frozen vegetables you might have heretofore forgotten about. You need a total of about four cups of vegetables so mix and match accordingly. Squash goes nicely with spicy flavors. Have some leftover turkey and cranberry? Potato will provide a good complement. Add canned roasted peppers to spice up some leftover chicken.

Once arranged in your bottom crust and covered with a top crust, the pot pie requires about an hour in the oven at 375 degrees. That’s an hour when your dinner is cooking but you are not.

With vegetables, sauce, meat and starch all included, pot pie is a meal in one slice. Serve with a salad and you’re likely to have enough left over for a homecooked lunch the next day.

Chicken Pot Pie

The more-or-less from scratch version

From Marlene Markey

Pie Crust

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup Crisco

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

Sift flour and salt.

Cut in Crisco until pieces are size of small peas.

Sprinkle water over the dough one tablespoon at a time and toss mixture with forks with each addition.

Form the dough into a ball and roll out.

Handling the dough as little as possible, roll dough into two crusts. Place one circle in a pie pan and reserve the remainder of the dough to use as top layer of crust.

Chicken filling

2 chicken breasts

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 1/2 cup peas

2 medium carrots

1 medium potato

Boil chicken and cut into small chunks.

Add peas, sliced cooked carrots, cooked potato soup.

Add 1/2 cup chicken broth from boiled chicken.

Mix and pour into pie shell.

Flip other pie shell on top.

Flute edges of crust (sealing edges) and make fork holes on top.

Cook at 375 degrees for about one hour until pie shell is light brown.


—Amy Diaz

 
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