Well, people—you can thank me. That’s right—go ahead; thank me. I did it. The blistering summer heat is over, and I am proud to say that immediately following my successful attempt at making some of the most awesome, (and inviting), chili (con carne y frijoles negros) around, Fall finally arrived. My plan worked. (You’re welcome.) I lured in the season with the smell of, truly, the best chili I’ve ever tasted. Now, it’s time to say, “Welcome! Make yourself at home! Take off your shoes and stay a while.” And, how am I going to do that: by whipping up something else warm, hearty, and tasty; something classic; something—American; How ‘bout Chicken Pot Pie?! There’s only one problem: it’s not really American. Oh, well; neither is chili when you get right down to it, and it seemed to do the trick.
Hailing from right off the western tip of Great Britain, the “Cornish Pasty” is definitively noted as the father of the pot pie. So, to make a great attempt to keep this short, I’ll just put it this way: The pot pie is basically a bastardized version of some English thing that looks like a hot pocket. Apparently, the inception of the “Pasty” was wrought by the fact that, way back in the day, some miners needed a hefty meal with a built-in handle that they could keep in their pockets and eat down in the mine. Hence, the “Pasty”: a hefty portion of meat, vegetables, and gravy wrapped up in a pastry dough in a sort of crescent shape, thus creating the “handle” for the dirty-handed miners. There—enough history. What’s really important to note is that I LOVE chicken pot pie no matter from what or where it comes.
So, it’s meat, gravy, and vegetables? That sounds pretty easy. Oh, but then there’s that dough. If you’ve read my pizza posts, you know how inexperienced I am with any kind of dough. I could probably just buy a boxed dough in the freezer section of the grocery store, but I’m sort of trying to get away from buying this stuff. I want to know exactly what’s going into it, and I like the feeling of being able to control how it turns out. Also, there are two other reasons that I want to be able to make these kinds of things myself—well, ok—three more, actually: 1 – I don’t like keeping a bunch of boxes and crap crammed in the pantry and fridge taking up space just in case I need them; always having to scour through to see if I have this thing or that thing when I can just have fewer essentials on hand all the time; being always ready to make something like a simple pie dough. 2 – I am absolutely positive that making these kinds of things from scratch saves money. 3 – I just like being in the kitchen making stuff. So—I definitely need to study up on pastry dough.
First, from Wikipedia:
Pastry is distinguished from bread by having a higher fat content, which contributes to a flaky or crumbly texture. A good pastry is light and airy and fatty, but firm enough to support the weight of the filling. When making a shortcrust pastry, care must be taken to blend the fat and flour thoroughly before adding any liquid. This ensures that the flour granules are adequately coated with fat and less likely to develop gluten. On the other hand, overmixing results in long gluten strands that toughen the pastry. In other types of pastry, such as Danish pastry and croissants, the characteristic flaky texture is achieved by repeatedly rolling out a dough similar to that for yeast bread, spreading it with butter, and folding it to produce many thin layers of folds.Many pie recipes involve blind-baking the pastry before the filling is added. Pastry dough may be sweetened or perhaps unsweetened.
Ok, so two keys are duly noted: More fat and less mixing. So—how much fat IS more fat? And how much mixing IS two much mixing? I’ve seen a pastry dough made a few times on tv, but never really paid attention. I need some help. In my incessant searching online, I discovered several takes on the standard pastry dough; all being fairly straightforward and similar. It seems that the use of butter AND shortening is required to obtain the desired texture. I wonder why. (Search mode: factor 11) After a bit more research, it starts to make more sense. Wikipedia offers up some useful information by stating, “…it is now known that shortening works by inhibiting the formation of long protein (gluten) strands in wheat-based doughs.”
More searching led me to another useful tidbit from this site: http://onlinepastrychef.wordpress.com/tag/shortening/. Author, Jenni Field, explains,
This is why: the water in the butter mixes with the flour in the recipe, forming some gluten. Gluten=chewy cookie. The butter melts to a thin liquid quickly. Melted fat=lots of spread=thin cookie. The milk solids brown in the oven. Browned milk solids=well, you know, brown cookies.Since there is no water in the shortening to mix with the flour, there won’t be any gluten development, and you’ll get a more tender cookie. Since the shortening melts at a higher temperature and more slowly than butter, the cookies will tend to hold their shape and be puffy, rather than thin. No milk solids to brown=lighter cookies.
Sure, she’s talking about cookies, but it’s quite applicable, and now it’s all starting to make sense. Time to roll out the dough!
Here’s what I came up with:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbls kosher salt
1 stick of very cold unsalted butter (cut into ½ inch cubes)
¾ cup of vegetable shortening (added about a tablespoon at a time)
5 tablespoons of ice cold water.
You know something else, I’m not really sure why everything has to be so cold either. There’s an interesting article here (http://www.helium.com/items/317853-how-to-use-ice-water-in-pastry-making). It basically explains that the cold water is used so that the butter stays cold and doesn’t melt. Apparently the cold and firm “globs” of butter scattered throughout the dough will expand before melting, thus causing little pockets of air. This will help to make the dough puff up and be flaky. Cool.
I blended the butter, flour, and salt first so that each little cube of butter was coated and dispersed sort of evenly. Then, I added in the shortening about a tablespoon at a time (for the same reason). (The shortening was at room temperature, and I thought that by getting each spoonful coated with flour before fully mixing would help to keep it from sticking to the butter, thus keeping the butter from being more prone to melt.) Then, I slowly added the water with the mixer on low just until it was all blended well enough to coalesce.
So, why not blend more? Gluten. I’ve just started understanding just what it is and what it does, and making this dough is really causing it all to sink in. When flour sucks in moisture, long strands of protein sort of tangle and come together, thus making gluten. The way I understand it, and the best way I can describe it is by saying that it’s kind of like a bunch of rubber bands all tangled together. The more the dough is worked, the more flour comes in contact with moisture and the more stretched out and tangled up the bands become. This, as stated earlier, is why shortening is used: to create less gluten so the dough is puffy and flaky instead of flat and stretchy—like a pizza dough. I placed the dough on a board and rolled it up into a ball. I covered it tightly with plastic wrap, and I put it in the fridge to stay cool. The info I gathered differed a little on this, but cooling it for about an hour seems to be a good minimum time. Now, for the filling.
Wanting to save money, and because I like the dark meat on a chicken, I got a little ambitious and bought a whole chicken. There was only one problem: I had never roasted a whole chicken in my life. Then again, I had never made a pastry dough either. Here goes nothin’.I placed the chicken in a large roasting pan and lathered it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I had some fresh thyme, so I laid several stems over the chicken. I rough-cut some russet potatoes and a white onion and scattered everything about. And, just for good measure, I laid a couple of tablespoons of butter on top. I put the chicken in the oven at 350, and turned the timer on to an hour. Now, I have heard that one should wrap the chicken with some butcher’s twine in order to keep everything tight as to evenly cook the bird. I don’t have any twine, and, honestly, I’m still not convinced that this makes all that much difference in an average sized chicken, but what do I know? Either way…I cooked it until the thigh measured 165 degrees. I’m told that it will continue cooking for several minutes after taken out, so I figure that the thigh should reach somewhere around 170, (the govmn’t recommended minimum), after sitting a little. The chicken was cooked, and to my surprise, it looked great! It was now time for the vegetable, gravy filling.
I took the remnant juices and what-not from the chicken and put it through a sieve; ending up with about a half a cup or so of chicken goodness. I remembered that the best way to make a thick sauce is to start with a roux. I had never even heard of a roux ‘til I met Sara. They lived in South Louisiana for a while, and the roux was about as ubiquitous as salt. Basically, you just mix some flour with some type of fat over heat to incorporate the flour as to eliminate clumps in your mixture. For typical gravies that don’t require any added flavor from the roux, you just cook it for a minute or so just to cook out any raw flour taste. This will thicken the sauce without altering the flavor and without making any clumps of flour in the sauce. For other sauce-based dishes, such as gumbo, you pretty much want to cook (very, very slowly without ever taking your eye off of it) until it is quite brown. This adds a distinct sort of “nutty” flavor, for lack of a better word, and it can be cooked anywhere from a golden brown to a dark, almost black, thick consistency. For my sauce, I simply took the fatty juice from the chicken and threw it in a pot with about a tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour and mixed on medium heat for a couple of minutes until a well-defined roux was established. Then, I put in a cup of heavy cream and a box of chicken stock. I tossed in a hefty pinch of kosher salt, about a whole tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper, and a couple of bay leaves. I cut up 2 carrots, and, thinking that they’d need a little more time to cook than the other stuff, I tossed them into the mix to start cooking them. Then, I tossed in about 2/3 cup each of frozen corn and peas.
By this time, the chicken was cooled off enough to start tearing apart. It was cooked well. It was juicy, and the meat easily came right off the bone. I hand-shredded the meat and tossed it into the pot with the vegetables and gravy mix.While I let it all simmer, I figured it was time to work on forming the pie. I took the dough out of the fridge, and unwrapped it from the plastic wrap. I remember seeing someone on tv once roll out a similar dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. (I think it was Michael Chiarello). I remembered liking the little trick when I saw it, and I thought this would be the perfect time for it. It worked beautifully, no flour, no mess, and the dough didn‘t stick to the rolling pin, or, in my case, a big wine bottle. I rolled it out to about a ¼ inch thickness, and placed it in the dish. What was really cool about the plastic wrap trick was that when transferring the dough, all I had to do was handle the plastic wrap – not the dough; so the dough was safe from my “nonculinarily”- trained hands. I “blind-baked” the bottom crust of the pie in a large ceramic dish. I remember seeing somewhere that you can use some uncooked beans laid on top off some wax paper to sort of hold the crust in place and to help it keep its form. I didn’t have any uncooked beans, but I DID have some rice. It worked well. I cooked it at 350 for about 12 minutes, and it came out nice and flaky and slightly brown. Sweet! It was now time for the filling. I scooped in the filling and rolled out my second dough for the top. I laid on the top dough, and cut four slits in it to let out steam. I put the whole thing in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes, and I’m proud to say that it came out to be what you see in the pics. After coupling it with the potatoes that roasted with the chicken, it was the perfect meal. And, I know what you’re thinking, “So, did it taste as good as it looked?” Actually, it tasted even BETTER than it looked. I can’t even describe how good it tasted. It was simply the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever had. Now, the potatoes, on the other hand, could have used a little more T.L.C.; they were pretty bland— nothing some butter and salt couldn’t fix though.
1 – Roasting a whole chicken is actually pretty easy. Next step: raising one, killing it, plucking it, degutting it, cleaning it, THEN roasting it. I wonder— if my wife‘s parents have chickens, does that make them my— chickens-in-law? Look out Harwood chicken farm!
2 – I can’t wait to make another pie— maybe a sweet one next time.
3 – So, if my scheme to lure in fall worked, what in the world am I going to cook to ward off winter?