Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bye Bye, Chicken Pie

Sometimes (my husband would say, often) I become obsessed with a recipe that doesn’t work, and I have to make it work, even if that means making the same thing four times and driving my family crazy discussing changes and additions. “NO,” he’ll say, calmly, “I REALLY DON’T THINK IT’S GOING TO MAKE THAT MUCH DIFFERENCE IF YOU USE SEEDLESS RASPBERRY JAM INSTEAD OF THE KIND WITH SEEDS. NOW CAN WE PLEASE CHANGE THE SUBJECT?!?”

So is it a coincidence that my kids started saying, “Bye bye, chicken pie,” just about the same time I started my relationship with this recipe? Maybe.

Let’s talk about the first time I made this pie. I saw the recipe in a magazine (and never mind which one, because it’s one that tends to be a bit persnickety about its reputation—which I have to suspect is largely self-assigned—for printing Perfected Recipes, and they seem to feel there’s no improving on them, which I have found to be Just Plain Wrong. But I digress.) and it just looked so wonderfully unhealthy I had to try it. This is not, you understand Chicken Pot Pie. There are no peas, no carrots, no onions, no potatoes. This is chicken in a creamy sauce in pie crust. That right there is three of my favorite things: pie crust, chicken, and cream sauce.

I made it with the ingredients listed according to the instructions given. They referred you to a pie crust recipe two pages ahead, which made so much crust that I probably could have made one two-crust pie, and one single crust. It was wasteful. (Although I’m willing to accept some blame as far as the crust is concerned; it’s possible I rolled it too thin the first time.) The proportions they gave for the filling were so generous that I had to use a 10” deep dish pie crust to hold it all, which meant that the cooking time was more like an hour and a half. The thing spent so much time in the oven that the sauce broke. Even if it hadn’t broken, the original recipe called for lemon zest, which gave it a weird puckery flavor that I found off-putting.

I wanted to love this pie, but it needed some adjustments.

I walked through the original recipe.

Chicken: Originally the instruction was to roast over two pounds of bone-in breasts. Not only do I not normally keep bone-in breasts on hand, that was way too much chicken. I cut it back to two breasts, and used boneless skinless, which I always have around.

Aromatics: The one rib of celery and two cloves of garlic in the original recipe didn’t add enough flavor to the sauce. I increased the garlic and tossed in one medium chopped onion. Much better.

Sauce: That lemon zest was the first thing to go. Then to up the creaminess, I added some heavy cream, and at the same time reduced the amount of chicken broth so that the sauce recipe made much less overall.

Cheese: I had intended to reduce the amount of cheese the second time I made it, but actually ended up forgetting it altogether. Frankly, I didn’t miss it. I decided it was totally optional, and in the future I won’t be using it at all.

The result was deemed good but “missing something.” I thought it was fine, but if my tasters wanted a little added layer of flavor, I was happy to oblige (since it meant I got to make the pie yet again and I’d developed a deep affection for this pie reheated for breakfast. I actually don’t recommend this, because pie crust doesn’t take kindly to being microwaved, but if you do have pie leftover and you’re willing to put up with slightly tough crust, it makes a lovely breakfast).

The third time I made it, I simmered ¾ cup of heavy cream with rosemary, sage, and thyme. Bingo.

The result is a crisp flaky crust with a heavenly creamy sauce full of shredded chicken. The cheese doesn’t add much; I barely notice it. In fact, when it cooks during baking, it makes the sauce a little watery. It thickens up as it cools, but the first piece was a little looser than I prefer.

I think this would make an outstanding brunch dish. I myself loathe quiche. It’s always watery and the crust is soggy. This is a fabulous substitute with the same sort of ingredients profile: crust, creamy filling, some protein to get everyone going. And it’s different; not the same old thing.

And so, we bring to a close my chicken pie obsession. I know my family will be grateful (or maybe not, since this means we move on to something else). Bye bye, chicken pie.

Chicken Pie
Makes 1 9” pie

12 ounces flour (about 2 ¼ cup; use weight if at all possible, it’s much more reliable)
8 ounces (one stick) butter
2-4 ounces of ice water
¼ teaspoon salt

In a food processor, combine butter, flour and salt and pulse 10-12 times until butter is in quite small pieces. With the motor running, add the ice water until the dough just comes together. Divide dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or so, up to overnight.

Chicken Filling
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 ounces (1 stick) butter
1 rib celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk
½ cup chicken broth
¾ cup heavy cream
1 spring rosemary
2-3 sage leaves
2 thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch scallions, chopped (green parts only)
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
1 egg + 2 teaspoons water, beaten

Preheat oven to 375. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and roast for about 25 minutes, or until done. Allow to cool, then shred into 2” pieces (shredded chicken really does taste different from cubed chicken, for some reason; I hate shredding chicken—it gets under my nails and it takes forever—but it’s totally worth the improved taste).

In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream and herbs over medium-low heat. Allow to simmer while you make the rest of the sauce.

In a 3 qt saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and celery, and cook until softened but not coloring. Add the flour and cook about 3 minutes. It’s OK if the flour browns slightly, but don’t let it get too dark. Add the evaporated milk, cream (and all the herbs), and chicken broth. Taste for seasoning and correct as needed with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is quite thick.

Remove sauce from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard solids. Stir in chicken and chopped scallions (I taste for seasoning again here). Allow to cool slightly (about 30 mins).

Roll out pie crust, and fit into a 9” (1” deep) pie pan (spray the pan with cooking spray, and be sure to spray the edge of the pan so the crust doesn’t stick when you crimp it). Pour the filling into the prepared crust, and roll out the top crust. If you’re using the cheese, scatter it over the top of the filling now. Cover with the top crust and crimp the edges with a fork. Brush the crust with the egg and water mixture.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour (start checking at 45 minutes—the top crust should be golden, and if using a glass pie plate, you should see little bubbles around the sides of the bottom crust through the dish). Allow to cool for ten minutes. Serve.


Kelly said...

snicker, think I know which magazine you're talking about and if it's the one I'm thinking of I've made at least 2 bombs that also required reworking. chicken pie looks delish.

TD said...

It's uncanny--every recipe I make from them (and you probably have the right magazine!) has to be redone, IMO. I made these really awesome little bun things, but honestly, 1 slice of cheese + cooked ground beef + shredded cabbage + salt and pepper is BLAND! I want to rework those too, because the have so much promise, but the original is a total dud!

Traci said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and I really enjoyed browsing. I see some recipes that I'll definitely be trying. I love a good food blog!

TD said...

Hi Traci--Thanks for stopping by!