When I was a child, eating healthy was a fad. A trendy choice for a fringe group of women who bounced through aerobics classes and sweated to the oldies. A new-wave-hippy lifestyle for parents who named their children Star Flower and fed them goat’s milk and nutritional yeast. It wasn’t frowned upon to be food-conscious, it just wasn’t a very mainstream movement back then. We’d all heard whispers of food being a cause of death, but it sounded like crackpot science-y nonsense. Family meals were heavy, filling and consisted of three food groups; meat, veggies, and lots of starch. My mother, showing her love for us through her food, often took that to the next level by adding the butter group to every meal. Is it any wonder that some of my favorite foods are dairy and fat-based? If I could pour, spread or melt butter onto every meal without becoming a walking stroke, I would. Knowing now what we didn’t quite understand in the past, this type of indulgence simply isn’t sustainable. I’d like to meet and have conversations with my grandchildren, someday. I have happily converted some of my childhood favorites into lighter, healthier versions, knowing that I’m doing my family a favor by keeping them well. But, every now and again, I must have the original. There are times I ardently crave the satisfaction that comes with devouring a fat-laden, starch-laced, gut-busting feast. One of the first dishes that pops into my mind is savory pie…often given the misnomer of pot pie (pot pie is a crustless, one pot dish). My dense, flaky version weighs in at around 3.5 pounds and contains three sticks of butter, total. I know, ridiculous, right? Well, it tastes like three pounds of savory starchy buttery love, which, if you’ve never tasted love before, tastes frikkin’ good. So, when you find yourself in the mood for pure, unadulterated comfort, try this recipe out. And, if you manage to somehow resist a second piece, major props on your buffed out, super strong self control.
Savory Chicken Comfort Pie
(Gluten Free Option in Recipe Notes Below)
For the Crust
2 1/2 C All-purpose flour
2 sticks very cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 C ice water (ice removed or melted before using)
1 Tablespoon Sea salt
1 Teaspoon sugar
In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients with a whisk. Add butter cubes and cut them into the flour using a pastry cutter. When the butter pieces are about the size of small peas, stop mixing. Add ice water (no cubes), a tablespoon at a time, combining with a wooden spoon or your hands, until the dough can be gathered into one piece. You may only need half a cup, just add slowly and don’t overwork the dough. You want pieces of butter floating independently throughout, so that the texture remains flakey. It doesn’t need to be a solid mass of stretchy dough, we aren’t making pizza. Once you can loosely combine the dough into a ball, cut it in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When ready to assemble, remove the dough balls, flour your countertop and rolling pin and roll each out to about 1/16″ or 2mm. Preheat oven to 375. I like to par-cook the bottom shell in the pie pan before assembling so that the dough doesn’t get too wet or mushy. Gently press into pie pan. Using a fork, poke the bottom about 5-6 times so the crust doesn’t rise or bubble up. Bake about 4 minutes and remove. The color should still be pale. Add filling, cover with top layer of dough and tuck edges down to meet the bottom crust’s edge. Pinch or fork pie edges for prettiness. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Cut a few slits into the top of the pie to allow steam to vent. Cover just the rim of the dough loosely with foil and bake 5 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for approximately 6 minutes, or until crust is slightly browned and you can hear it bubbling. Depending on your oven, this may take a few minutes more or less, so keep an eye on it. If you would like a crispier crust, keep baking a few minutes more.
For the filling:
(I use lots of frozen vegetables but you can use fresh, omit ones you hate or change them to suit your taste)
2 large or 3 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked just through, then cut into 1″ cubes
1 C frozen peas with pearl onions
2/3 C frozen green beans
2/3 C frozen diced carrots OR (and this is my fave) 1 C frozen Parisian carrots from Trader Joe’s (adorable little carrots shaped like pearl onions)
1 clove garlic, minced
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
2 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
1/4 C all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter. Add herbs and minced garlic. After about a minute add flour. Stir to combine and make a roux. After about 20-30 seconds, whisk in chicken stock and cream. Allow to heat up and thicken. You should have a semi thick gravy that still moves. If your sauce is too thick, stir in more stock, 1/4 cup at a time. If too thin, sift and whisk a bit more flour in, being careful not to allow it to clump. Add all frozen veggies*. combine and let heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now, add chicken. Combine and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste (If you don’t make it a habit to constantly taste food as you’re cooking, it’s time to start). Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit. If you’ve found that your filling has thickened too much, add a bit more stock here. Spoon or pour into par-cooked lower crust (you may have some filling leftover – it’s delish with rice, added to soup or over potatoes, so I save it) and cover with top crust. Brush dough with remaining melted butter. Proceed with directions above.
* If using fresh veggies, cook them through before adding to gravy. If they go into the gravy raw, they’ll go into the pie semi-raw and won’t cook through in the oven. I like using frozen because, let’s be honest, it’s easy.
This dish freezes beautifully. Just cook and allow to cool completely before wrapping tightly in foil. To reheat from frozen, bake with foil cover on for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
Roux: the paste created by cooking flour in fat.
Gluten free option:
Whole Foods (and probably another store near you) carries a frozen, gluten free pie crust. To make the filling gluten free, heat the veggies in melted butter (use about 3 tablespoons here instead of 6) and add cooked chicken, the stock and cream. In a cup or small bowl, combine four tablespoons corn starch with 2/3 cup cold water, stir well. While the stock and cream are simmering, add half of the corn starch mixture. As the temperature rises, the sauce will thicken. Keep adding corn starch water until desired thickness is reached. At the least, the sauce should heavily coat the back of a wooden spoon. Think pudding, but a little thinner. You can make and add more starch as needed, just be sure to dissolve in cold water before adding to pan. Be sure to season well – you are adding water and starch that are unseasoned and can flatten your flavor. Proceed with directions above and follow package directions for frozen pie crust.