Growing up, I was lucky to take horse-backing riding lessons once a week. Every Thursday, my mom would pick me up from school, sit though my lesson, and then on the way home we would stop at the store and pick up frozen pot pies for dinner. My family was not one to eat frozen meals, but for her, after a long day, this was the easiest way for her to get dinner on the table shortly after coming home. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t taste good, or I was just sick of eating them on a regular basis, but I hated them.
A few weeks ago, my friend Adriann invited me over for dinner. She said she was making chicken pot pie. I had horrible frozen pot-pie memories, but because she is a great cook and I didn’t have any food in my house anyways, I graciously agreed to come over. They were delicious. Instead of a top & bottom crust, she used light and fluffy biscuits. Yummmmmmm…….
Remember when I butchered the chickens a few months ago? I was stocked up on broth, so one of the hens was just hanging out in the freezer, waiting to become a more substantial meal. Its surprisingly hard to find recipes that use stewing, or “spent” hens, which are too tough to eat as a roaster or a fryer. Perhaps this is one of the resourceful skills that has been forgotten by generations passed. With supermarket shelfs stocked with tender, young chickens, there appears no need to know how to use chickens in various stages of their life. I thought pot pie was the perfect thing for my retired hen.
Stewed Chicken Pot Pie:
First step is to stew the hen. Place either a pieced out or whole hen in a large pot, with a few stalks of celery, carrots, an onion, a few bay leafs, and a small handful of whole peppercorns. Cover with water, and gently simmer for 2 hours.
Let cool, then remove the chicken pieces. Discard the skin, and shred the meat off the bones. Roughly chop and set the meat aside. Return the bones to the pot, add a bit more water, and simmer longer to make a waste-not broth.
Next step is to prepare the pie’s veggies. Saute a few stalks of celery and a few chopped carrots in a bit of olive oil until barely tender. Defrost a cup or so of frozen peas. Chop a handful of parsley.
Add to a bowl with the meat. Season with salt, pepper and a few splashes of sherry. Gently toss to combine.
While the celery and carrots are cooking, start the sauce (based roughly off sauce for the Creamed Chicken recipe from the 1975 Joy of Cooking). Over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter in an oven-proof sauce pan. Wisk in 4 tablespoons of flour. Blend for 3-4 minutes. Slowly stir in 3 cups milk and 1 cup chicken broth. Add 1 small onion, quartered, pinch of whole cloves and 1 small bay leaf. Stir to combine, then place in a heated 350 degree oven. (this is a FABULOUS way to make a thick bechamel without having to stir constantly!) Stir occasionally, let cook slowly for 20 minutes. Strain or fish out bay, cloves and onion. Add a dash of nutmeg.
Increase oven to 400 degrees. Combine sauce with meat mixture. Pour into a buttered baking dish, and place in oven for 20 minutes.
While the pie is cooking, make the biscuits. Another lost skill: calling up a friend to ask for a recipe. I was excited to call up Adriann and ask the recipe for the biscuits she made for her pie.
Biscuit recipe courtesy of Adriann Saslow: Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar & 1 stick butter. Stir in 3/4 cup milk and 1 egg. Pat or roll dough out on a floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick. Using a cutter, an overturned glass, or a canning ring, cut dough into circles.
Take pie from oven, and top partially cooked meat and sauce mixture with the biscuit dough. Return to oven for an additional 10-15 minutes.