Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Signature Dish



Summer is my favorite season for eating. Farmers' market visits are yielding produce for simple meals of sweet corn and BLTs, grilled zucchini, and my favorite snack food: pickling cucumbers with salt. While I should be taking this opportunity to blog about starting your own garden in an urban environment, the many uses for summer tomatoes and corn, everything you wish you knew about grilling, and of course our very own Evanston Farmers'Market, I have been instead preparing myself to leave Chicago behind and move to Cleveland to begin the next chapter of my life.

I'm supposed to be packing right now. I've already packed 5 boxes worth of stuff and it seems that none of it is stuff I've actually used in the last 15 months. The rest is all stuff that I use daily and don't want to pack away yet. I'm stuck in a void between the necessary and the unnecessary and it seems like the perfect time to catch up on my writing.

My summer has not actually been incredibly busy...not like last summer when I spent a week at home, a week in Ocean City, a few days in Colorado, a road trip to the Tetons, and a weekend in Orlando. This summer has been mostly spent cooking, watching Masterchef, and getting the most out of my last days in Chicago. (Oh! and practicing.)

I think each of those activities warrants a post to themselves and hopefully once I get settled in my new Cleveland apartment I can sit down and write a bit more. I will be lonely after all.

This post is slightly Masterchef-related however, as to get on the show, each contestant must create and serve their own signature dish to serve to the judges. I know exactly what mine would be: CHICKEN POT PIE.



When I first started to become interested in cooking when I was 12 or 13 (i.e. when my parents thought it was safe for me to do it myself), the first thing I wanted to make was chicken pot pie. I would always go to the freezer section of the grocery store and try a different chicken pot pie, but I was never satisfied with the gummy chicken and frozen vegetables. This should in theory be delicious, I thought. But nothing out there satisfied me. So I went through my parents cookbook collection, which included the infamous red-checkered Better Homes cookbook which no housewife in the past 50 years has been without, to find the perfect recipe to make the pie myself. I didn't find quite what I was looking for but decided to combine elements from two recipes to create my own.

My concept was was essentially to put everything good about chicken soup into a pie. It was a little juvenile, but the result was tasty and a favorite among my family and friends. Just a few months ago I decided to take what I've learned about modern cooking techniques and modify my recipe to make it even more flavorful, and to make it one I could be proud to share with the world.

Without further ado, Mary's Chicken Pot Pie:

Ingredients:
FOR THE CRUST
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cups shortening
approx 1/4 cup cold water

FOR THE FILLING
2 Tbsp oil
2-3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
salt
pepper
5 stalks celery, large diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped (optional)
4 large carrots, large diced
2-3 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
approx 48 oz. chicken broth (enough to cover chicken and veggies and yield at least 3 cups)
6 Tbsp butter
1 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup flour
(3 cups reserved broth)
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup frozen peas
1 ear of fresh corn, cut from the cob
1 egg or 1/4 cup milk

Directions:
Sift flour and salt together. Cut in half the shortening until like cornmeal. Cut in the rest of the shortening until pieces are the size of small peas.



Sprinkle a spoonful of water over part of mixture and gently toss with a fork. Push to side of bowl. Repeat til all is moistened. Form into a ball. Chill in the refrigerator.



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or very large saute pan. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Place chicken skin side down in the pan and brown 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.



In the drippings, saute celery, fennel, and carrots until beginning to become tender, about 15 minutes. Place chicken on top of vegetables, add enough chicken stock to cover, then add potatoes and bring to a boil. Cover and let braise for 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside (cover with tin foil to preserve juices). Continue cooking, covered, until veggies are tender.





Strain the contents of the pan and reserve both the broth and the vegetables. You should have at least 3 cups of broth. If not, supplement with more canned broth.

Without cleaning the pan, melt 6 Tbsp butter and saute the onion in the same pan until translucent but not brown. Make a roux by stirring in the flour, allowing it to cook for about a minute. Then add 3 cups of the reserved broth all at once. Stir constantly until thick and bubbly. Add cream, salt, and white pepper. Do not allow to boil.



Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and coarsely chop (I like big pieces of chicken in my pie). Add chicken, peas and corn to the gravy first and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the braised vegetables and stir to combine.



TO ASSEMBLE THE PIES
Fill 4-6 ramekins with filling about 3/4 of the way up.



Cut the ball of dough into six pieces. On a floured surface roll out a piece until it is about 1/4 inch thick and big enough to cover your pot pies. Lay crust over the top of the ramekin and trim an inch around the edge of the ramekin. Tuck the excess crust under and pinch closed against the inside lip of the ramekin. Cut slits in the top to let out steam and brush with egg wash or milk.





Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.



This chicken pot pie is the ultimate comfort food, but it always strikes me as a summer dish. The key is all the vegetables and the corn in particular. I always make this in the summer with really fresh sweet corn from the farmer's market. I've tried substituting a can of corn in the winter and the result it just not the same.

I also make a big batch for my family reunion every July. I can still hear my Uncle Jim, who died last summer, say "that's some good pot pie!"

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