Growing up, chicken potpie meant a Swanson’s frozen dinner, pulled hot from the oven before my parents escaped for a night of freedom. Those nights meant freedom to my sister and me, too: babysitters!
The Love Boat! Fantasy Island! Oh my, how we looked forward to watching Charo charm Captain Stubing and his merry crew, sharing a bowl of hot buttery popcorn balanced between our nubby, bandaged knees.
I wanted to recreate the sheer joy, if not the actual taste, of that childhood meal, with a crust that could be drenched in gravy and still retain a crunch, vegetables that stood on their own but melded well together, and chicken that added a savory layer of its own. I also wanted it to be easy.
Easy and homemade chicken potpie aren’t usually used in the same sentence, this much I know. And because I didn’t want to use too many premade ingredients, I had to pick my battles. Prepared puff pastry? Done (easy choice, since I’m a mess at baking). Rotisserie chicken, now that’s another sodium-laden story altogether; no. Pre-sliced mushrooms, frozen peas, organic low-sodium chicken broth? Yea, sure and okay, fine.
Traditional chicken potpie, frozen or otherwise, usually includes this vegetable trifecta: peas, pearl onions and carrots. I prefer my carrots raw, thank you very much, so those went out the window. I did test this recipe with pearl onions, and while my dad liked them (I suspect they reminded him of my grandmother’s first edition Joy-Of-Cooking-era cooking), I did not. So I opted to act like the child of my youth and pick my own vegetables. Cook’s prerogative, right?
Mushrooms, potatoes and peas made the cut; diced onions are the base of the gravy. I roasted the chicken with a simple salt and pepper rub. Obviously, something this nostalgic warranted the full-fat treatment: heavy cream made it into my shopping cart for the first time in ages.
You’ll notice I do cook the vegetables and the chicken separately before combining them with the gravy; don’t let this lure you into thinking the recipe is time-consuming or challenging, because it’s neither. In fact, I managed to prep the filling (once I’d roasted the chicken) in under an hour.
The result? A remarkably easy, make-ahead dish that also freezes well. Oh, and did I mention how delicious it is, how positively can-I-have-another-one fabulous? Just be sure to set a few extra places at the table, this one’s too scrumptious to keep to yourself.
Gluten-free update: Whole Foods sells a great gluten-free pie crust that works well in place of the puff pastry. Substitute a gluten-free flour mix for the flour in the gravy.
Love-at-First-Bite Chicken Potpies
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
2 cups red potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 package pre-sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cups low-sodium chicken stock
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups red onions, chopped (about 2 medium onions)
¾ cup flour
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
Prepare the Chicken (this step can be done the day before)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Place the chicken breasts on a rimmed baking sheet, brush the oil over each side, then season with salt and pepper, to taste.
3. Set in oven and roast for 30-35 minutes, cooked through until the internal temperature reaches 165°.
4. Let cool, then chop into bite-sized pieces.
Prepare the Vegetables
1. Steam the peas in the microwave per package instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat a pot of water until boiling, add potatoes and a pinch of salt and boil for 10 minutes; potatoes should begin to soften but still have some crunch. Drain and set aside.
3. In a medium skillet, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prepare the Gravy & Filling
1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Warm ¼ cup olive oil, then sauté the onions until soft, about 12-15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate small pot, heat the chicken stock over medium heat.
3. Once the onions are translucent, stir in the flour and reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture has begun to thicken.
4. Add the hot chicken stock to the flour mixture and bring to a simmer. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and the heavy cream.
5. Add the chicken, peas, mushrooms, potatoes and parsley and mix well. Taste and season as needed.
Prepare the Pies
1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
2. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the puff pastry sheets, one at a time, until you reach a 12”x12” square. Cut each sheet into four squares; you’ll have 8 total.
3. Divide the filling between 8 ovenproof bowls (I used 10-ounce ramekins).
4. Whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water; brush the rim of each bowl with the egg wash.
5. Cover each ramekin with a square of dough, crimp the edges, then wash each lightly with the egg wash.
6. Place on a baking sheet and bake for an hour, or until the crust has turned golden brown.
Adapted from various recipes by Ina Garten.
Updated on June 2, 2011: Find this post, and loads of other fun reads, over at Mama Kat’s Losin’ It Thursday writer’s workshop, here. Happy Thursday!