Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Dinner in Fog-town

Ah, summer in San Francisco: while the rest of America basks in sunshine and warmth, we reach for our sweaters and watch the cold, foggy drizzle blow by. And, at mealtime our thoughts turn not to salads but to warming comfort food – like chicken pot pie. So often, however, chicken pot pie can be disappointing: mushy vegetables, bland flavors a sauce that’s either too gooey or too runny and the crust seems to just sit there like a stranger on a bus that doesn't want to get involved. We shared an idea of what chicken pot pie could be, then set out the other night to see if we could accomplish it. Honestly, I think we were both stunned by our success.

Chicken Pot Pie with a Biscuit Crust

Ingredients (serves 3)

1 medium non-starchy potato (eg Red Bliss or Yukon Gold)
1 carrot
½ onion
1 stick celery
4 brown mushrooms
Handful of peas (fresh or frozen; you could also substitute snow peas or green beans)
3 slices pancetta or bacon, diced
1 chicken breast, cut into ~ ¾ inch chunks
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1½ cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Pinch dried thyme
Olive oil

For the biscuit crust

1½ c plain flour
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/3 c shortening
½ c milk

Preheat the oven to 400F, then start by frying the pancetta/bacon; if it’s very lean you may want to add a little olive oil. When it’s starting to get brown around the edges, remove to a plate and add the chicken to the same pan; fry, stirring occasionally until brown on all sides. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon.

Cut the vegetables into ~ ½-inch chunks and quarter the mushrooms. Brown the vegetables in the remaining bacon fat/oil; first the carrot, onion, potato and celery; you may need a little more oil in the pan if they keep sticking, but try not to make it too oily. After 5 minutes add the mushroom and peas and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. The vegetables should still be a bit crunchy. Return the pancetta/bacon and chicken to the pan with the vegetables and mix thoroughly.

While the vegetables are cooking, make your veloute sauce (aka gravy). Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the flour until it forms a well-blended roux. Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring all the time: slow addition and thorough mixing are key to getting a smooth sauce. When all the stock is incorporated, add salt and pepper to taste along with a pinch of dried thyme. The sauce should be quite strongly seasoned since we didn’t add any seasoning to the meat or vegetables.
To assemble the biscuit crust, mix all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) then blend in the shortening. Add the milk and stir until just combined. Turn the dough out to a floured board and knead two or three times, then press the dough out to about ½ inch thickness, in approximately the same shape as the top of your baking dish.

Put the meat and vegetables in your baking dish, then pour the veloute sauce over. Cover it all with the biscuit crust, trimming the sides as necessary to make it fit nicely. Poke a few holes in the crust to allow steam to escape, then bake for 20-25 minutes. The crust should be risen, flaky and nicely browned.
A perfect summer dish!

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