Every so often, especially as the weather gets a little chilly, I take a fancy to warm, filling kind of things and a potpie is one of my favorites. I adore a good chicken potpie. Hell, who am I kidding? I’ve been known to eat a few bad ones here and there. They fit the bill; all comforting, creamy and delicious. My mom made a mean potpie when I was a kid – fresh cooked chicken and vegetables, napped in a lovely creamy sauce with a soft but crunchy biscuit top. Sure it was a Bisquick top but that doesn’t matter. It was delicious all the same. (We’re Polish. We don’t come from a biscuit culture.) I make one every so often when the urge strikes but sometimes it takes more time than I have so it’s nice to have one or two stashed in the freezer.
The other day, slugging around, I thought a potpie would be pretty damn good but didn’t have the energy to do it myself. I headed to the grocery store and wandered the frozen food aisles aimlessly. It’s not a section I visit often and it kind of freaked me out. I’m always stunned at all the packaged crap available, one after the other, rows upon rows. Good lord, do we eat all this? What’s the matter with cooking fresh food? I understand convenience but why oh why do we need things like frozen chopped onions? What is the point of that? If you need me to show you how to chop an onion, holler.
After a bit of searching (and it felt like eons), I finally located the frozen potpies. I may not eat these that often but I do have standards. I really despise weird molded chicken pieces parts. Ugh. Give me some real unmanipulated chicken please. Then there’s the crust ratio – top and bottom or just top? I can go either way here as long as it’s cooked and crispy. Mushy crust is a major foul.
I gravitated toward Marie Calendar’s, mainly because the picture looked good, and flipped the box over to read the ingredients. Egad. There’s a lot of unpronounced stuff in these things. I’m not too sure what “disodium inosinate & disodium guanylate” are. “Interesterfied soybean oil” ? What kind of word is that? I googled “interesterfied” and the results made me want to hide under my bed. The term “chicken flavor” gives me hives. Oh and look – there’s that dreaded word “hydrogenated”. Gawd.
But wait, there’s more. 31g of fat in one of these babies. Holy moley. That’s a full day’s allotment right there. But here’s my favorite little bit of information … two servings per package. Really?!? Who the hell SHARES one of these things? So, if I eat the whole thing that’s 1040 calories, 62g of fat and a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t pronounce? Oh Christ. I shut that freezer door and walked away, empty handed. I was disgusted and had lost the will to roll my pudgy self to the checkout counter.
The more I thought about it, the more I knew I could do this better. I rerouted my cart and with a little zip in my step, picked up some carrots, celery, a few mushrooms and some butter to supplement what I knew I had in the fridge. This route may not be healthier but if I’m going to take in 31-62g of fat in one fell swoop, I wanted to be the one in control. Time wise, sure it’d take a bit of effort but I could knock out 2-4 pies at once and stock up the freezer. I’d use chunky white meat chicken, fresh vegetables and a creamy homemade sauce. None of those glycerides, dextrins, flavorings, thickeners and certainly nothing called “guanylate”. Nothing hydrogenated, autolyzed nor interesterfied.
I knew I could make a good potpie but would it freeze ok without all that stabilizer crap? Well, I was about to find out.
I made my usual recipe – poached a chicken breast, cooked some vegetables in chicken stock then made a sauce out of that enriched chicken stock. Actually, I made a very classic sauce – a veloute. Pretty easy, actually. I folded all the goodies together and set it aside to cool while I considered the top.
So what to use? I decided to go with a pie crust over a biscuit top because I had a feeling it would freeze better. For fun, I added a little marjoram, thyme and pepper to the dough, rolled it out and cut circles using the pie tin as a template. I decided to do a top crust only to make it a little easier and save a few calories as I was still a little freaked out by reading labels. Yeah, like this is diet food.
Into the pie tins went the cooled filling, pastry circles on top with a nice edge crimp and a little vent hole. A few brush strokes of egg wash then into the freezer they were until solid. Once frozen, I wrapped them in plastic, slipped them into a Ziploc bag labeled with the cooking instructions and stashed them back in the freezer.
I was a little skeptical. Would the veloute freeze OK or curdle once reheated? Would the vegetables, already cooked in chicken stock, be mushy? Would the chicken toughen? Would the crust cook up brown and crispy and the filling reheat within the same timeframe or would I get a dark crust with a chicken ice cube underneath? I wasn’t sure.
Oh for god’s sake. I worry too much. The little beauty came out of the oven steaming and bubbly; golden brown and smelling heavenly. I broke through the crust and was delighted … the filling was silky smooth, creamy and absolutely delicious. The vegetables and chicken were tender. It was lovely and I promptly burned my tongue.
Lovely? This was a flippin’ culinary triumph! I’m never buying a crapola potpie again. These were heads and shoulders above anything I’ve ever purchased. The one thing to keep in mind is that this falls more so in the slower food catagory. Putting them together, though not difficult, does take a bit of time and they don’t exactly bake up quickly. Like the manufactured ones, a good hour in a hot oven is required. And for god’s sake, whatever you do, please do not microwave these. It would be offensive.
Another bonus? Make ‘em as you like ‘em. Don’t like chicken, use turkey. Don’t like carrots, add peas. Here’s a thought – if you have leftover chicken and vegetables, or a store-bought rotisserie chicken or even some extra beef stew, this will come together in a snap. Or wait … what if you skipped the pastry and used mashed potatoes? Shepherd’s Pie! The possibilities are endless. Use whatever you like and because it’s all fresh ingredients, you don’t have to worry about all that weird unpronounceable garbage. It isn’t exactly diet food, I mean, there’s a fair amount of butter in the sauce and the crust, but it’s natural and tasty and that certainly counts for something.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: TEN FINGERS AND TEN TOES UP! Like I said above, this is a flippin’ culinary triumph! Anytime you can make something utterly delicious that’s 10x better than anything you can buy (and really not all that difficult) it’s a keeper. Got some extra time on your hands? Stock that freezer! They’re great for impromptu meals or just when you need a little warm hug. And you know what? That sauce is a veloute, one of the 5 classic mother sauces. Oh yes, this baby has it’s roots in classic French cuisine. Aren’t you fancy.
FREEZER CHICKEN POT PIE
Makes four 5” pies
I used disposable mini pie tins for these and noticed that I had purchased two different sizes by accident – 5” and 4 3/8” diameter. Whoops. This recipe makes four 5” pies. I should also mention that I prefer to poach the chicken in water rather than the chicken stock because it tends to muck up the water and I don’t want those bits in my stock.
for the pastry:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½” cubes
3 Tablespoons ice water
optional: ¾ teaspoon savory herbs like herbs de provence, marjoram, thyme, ground pepper, etc.
For the filling:
2 chicken breasts
2 carrots, peeled & cut into ½” chunks
8-10 mushrooms, halved or quarterd if large
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, cut into ½” chunks
1 large potato (about 12 ounces), peeled & cut into ½” dice
4 cups chicken stock
8 Tablespoons butter
8 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
kosher salt to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten for the egg wash
- For the pastry: In the workbowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and herbs if using, just to combine.
- Add the butter to the workbowl and process for a minute or two until the butter is the size of small peas.
- Add the ice water and process until just combined. Do not overwork.
- Turn the mixture out onto the work surface and gently knead until everything is combined.
- Pat the mixture into a flat disc and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 days or freeze up to 2 months, tightly wrapped.)
- For the chicken: Place the chicken breasts in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.
- Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer on low until cooked through – about 10 minutes.
- Remove chicken from the poaching liquid and allow to cool.
- Once cool, shred the chicken or cut into ½” dice, place in a large bowl and set aside until needed.
- For the vegetables: rinse out the saucepan and bring the chicken stock to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium then add the carrots, mushrooms, onion, celery and potato; cook until crisp-tender; about 6-7 minutes. (Keep in mind, the frozen pot pies will cook for another hour in the oven so you don’t want to overcook the vegetables now.)
- Place a strainer over a large measuring cup and strain the vegetable/stock mixture. You should have about 4 cups of stock; if not add additional stock to make 4 cups.
- Place the vegetables in the bowl with the chicken and set aside.
- For the sauce: for the sauce, you’ll need 2 Tablespoons butter + 2 Tablespoons of flour for each cup of liquid. In the same saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high.
- Add the flour and whisk until smooth – this is a roux.
- Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes to remove any “floury” taste but do not brown.
- Add the chicken stock and whisk until smooth.
- Continue cooking until thickened, about 3-4 minutes over medium-high.
- Add the thyme, marjoram, pepper and salt to taste.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken/vegetables and stir to combine.
- Let cool, stirring occasionally to hasten cooling.
- Roll the pastry: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 1/8” thick.
- Using the pie tin as a template, cut out 4 pastry rounds.
- Fill the pie tins to the rim line with the cooled filling.
- Place a pastry circle on top; crimp the edge of each with a fork and cut a vent hole in the center with a sharp knife.
- Brush lightly beaten egg on the top of each pot pie.
- Place the pies on a sheet pan and place the pan in the freezer.
- Freeze the pot pies until solid then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put in a Ziploc bag labeled with the cooking temperature (400°F) and cooking time (1 hour).
- To bake: Preheat the oven to 400°F and place a rack in the lowest position.
- Place the frozen pot pie on a foil or parchment lined sheet pan to catch any drips.
- Bake for 1 hour until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.