Pot Pie: It Takes Two

The severely cold weather has given me a one-track mind -- getting warm. I pull out all my stops -- the thick woolen socks, an extra scarf, a hot breakfast and pot pie.

A slice of pot-pie heaven. (Kim O'Donnel)

In fact, pot pie was all I could think about while in savasana (final relaxation pose) in yoga class last night. I was doing a mental check list, scanning the contents of the crisper drawer in the fridge and by the time I walked back into the cold, I determined there enough in-house provisions to make an ad hoc pot pie.

Visions of a hot savory pie bubbling through its crust were indeed swirling in my head as I boarded the Metro across the river into Arlington. By the time I got home, it was already 7:30, a tad late for a supper project this ambitious, I confess. By myself, the pie likely wouldn't be done until well after 10, but if Mister Groom teamed up with me, we could be curled up pot-pie style in a fraction of the time.

It was a race against time, and I liked the challenge. While he chopped carrots, onions, garlic and rosemary, I boiled a bunch of fingerling potatoes and got to work on a cheddar cheese dough. He pulled meat from the previous night's chicken, and I took the bones to make a quickie stock in small saucepan.

The bok choy (a great alternative to celery) that I bought on the weekend mysteriously disappeared, so I used up some leftover chard instead.

Without the time to roast my veggies, I decided instead to soften them a bit in a hot pan with some olive oil, eventually adding the drained parboiled potatoes and shredded chicken. A few ounces of the quickie stock was added to help moisten the mixture, which was coming together nicely. All I needed now was a wee bit of gravy to tie everything together.

As long as a pot pie has all its key three elements -- crust, gravy and stock -- it doesn't really matter what the filling contains, in my opinion. I love a veggie pot pie just the same, but with leftover chicken in the house, a poultry-based pie made sense. My point is that the combinations for pot pie are endless, and in most cases, you probably have all the fixin's you need right in the pantry. Use what you got -- it's great fun and gratifying to be so resourceful in the kitchen.

While we tucked into our first slice, several filling possibilities came to mind -- sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pearl onions, peas, leeks, parsnips, cauliflower -- any or all would be heavenly (and healthy) pie filler.

But let me backtrack for a minute. The cheddar cheese dough I quickly put together comes from old scribbled notes, and I chose it for its cooperative fuss-free spirit, thanks to the fat in the cheese, butter and milk. Unlike a classic pie dough (often pate brisee), this version needs little resting time in the fridge and rolls out easily.

The gravy was a classic white gravy, using a roux (equal parts butter and flour) and gradual additions of chicken stock. I allowed it to thicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, and poured over the filling, already in the pie dish.

Below, guidelines for the best ad hoc pot pie, maximizing the contents of your fridge and making adjustments as you see fit. There are few rules, except to have an open mind and ideally, a kitchen partner. The rest is gravy...

And now, it's your turn. Share your tried-and-true pot pie tricks and hand-me-downs; I want all of them! Talk to me today at noon, for an hour of live countertop conversation...

Kim's Ad Hoc Chicken Pot Pie


2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 clove minced garlic
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
About 1 cup milk and/or cream (cream is unnecessary but is easiest to work with; half-n-half works well, too)

In a large mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and garlic. Stir to combine. Add butter and with your fingers or with a dough cutter, "cut" butter so that it integrates with the flour mixture, until it resembles a coarse meal texture. Stir in cheddar. Add milk and/or cream, gradually and gently, just until dough holds. Dough will be wet and sticky. Scoop onto plastic and allow to relax in fridge, at least 15 minutes.

When ready to roll, remove dough from fridge and place on a lightly floured work surface. Dust dough with flour and add as necessary until dough is pliable and can be rolled out into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.

Filling -- this is what I used last night, based on what was in house. As previously mentioned, this list is subject to change, depending on the kitchen and the cook.

Olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, diced
A few sprigs rosemary, needles removed, and finely chopped
6-10 small potatoes -- red, fingerling, banana
Cooked chicken, pulled from bones, amounting to about 5 ounces
Handful Swiss chard, stemmed and chopped

In a saucepan with boiling salted water, parboil potatoes, until al dente - not completely cooked. Drain and chop, if necessary, into smaller pieces.

In a deep skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil, and add onion, garlic and carrots. Over medium heat, cook until veggies are softened; add rosemary, potatoes and chicken, stirring until combined. Add salt and pepper as needed, or anything else to zip things up (hot sauce and soy sauce come to mind). Add chard, stirring to combine, allowing it to slightly wilt.

Meanwhile, heat your stock on another burner: If you've got leftover chicken bones, by all means, make an impromptu stock, but if all you have is a can, use that. (An impromptu veggie stock is possible too - with an onion, a few garlic cloves, a few sprigs of parsley, a leek, peppercorns.)

On the fourth burner, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons flour, allowing the two to combine and cook for a minute. Gradually add stock and whisk or stir vigorously to remove any flour lumps. Season as you like.

Preheat oven to 400.

Assembling your pot pie: I used a 9-inch pie plate, as I don't own a pottery crock, which would be ideal. I greased the bottom of the pan, lined it with a thin layer of dough (only because I had enough; what's important is the top layer), added filling, poured gravy on top, followed by top layer of cheddar dough.

With a paring knife, make "x" incisions in dough to allow steam to release. Bake for 30 minutes, until dough turns a golden color and filling is bubbling.

Serve immediately. Makes at least 4 servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 6, 2007; 10:37 AM ET Chicken/Poultry , Dinner Tonight
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I do a shortcut pot pie with rotisserie chicken, cream of celery, mushroom, chicken (any or all), boxed broth, frozen veggies, a little white wine, and potatoes. I like a puff pastry crust (frozen, of course). My sister likes a biscuit top and bottom. Yes, I cheat on the biscuits, too. Most of the time I am beating an 8 PM dinner deadline. The shortcuts help me get a tasty comfort dish on the table in about thirty minutes. Campbell's has a pretty good shortcut recipe on their website.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | February 6, 2007 2:03 PM

I love Ina Garten's recipe for chicken stew with biscuts. (Barefoot Contessa, Food Network) Make filling and dump into a cassarole, while it starts to cook, you make the biscuts, place over filling and bake til they are done. Her exact recipe for this has too many steps for a weeknight, but it makes so much you can eat throughout the week. I have also made the filling and biscuts seperate and kept in the fridge for easy entertaining the next day.

Posted by: Albany | February 6, 2007 2:19 PM


Posted by: Newred | February 6, 2007 2:45 PM

Hi. Love your column and all the great ideas from readers.

Sweet potatoes: Mashed -- Bake with orange juice, crushed pineapple (hopefully fresh) and chopped pecans. Throw in some cooked and slightly sweetened or dried cranberries for color and tartness, or chopped apple. Low fat and yummy, but adjust seasoning to your taste with butter, salt, inspiration.
Chunks -- Bake with chunks of gold and red beets, apples and carrots. Season to taste with nuts, cider, butter, salt, etc. Very colorful and filling on a cold night.
Something green on the side, naturally.

Posted by: Fran, Clarksburg | February 6, 2007 2:57 PM

The best pot pies - chicken and vegie - in the world are made at Liberty Cafe, a small restaurant in San Francisco's intimate Bernal Heights neighborhood.

And like the Tango, it takes two to get through it.

Posted by: SFDarryl | February 6, 2007 3:40 PM

Yum to all of the above--
the quick rotisserie chicken version is great for a weeknight or when you're making a lot for the freezer. Adding some fresh herbs makes a big difference--some thyme leaves or rosemary in the roux, then a sprinkling on top before the crust. Also try sherry in place of wine.

Posted by: Lisa | February 6, 2007 4:59 PM

Hi Kim. If I want to add chicken but don't have any pre-cooked, can I poach some and use the cooking water for the stock? Or would you roast or saute and use canned stock?

Posted by: Liz | February 6, 2007 5:33 PM

Liz: I think it depends on what your time frame is. If you want to get this done tonight, poach, but do zest up your poaching liquid. Include some black peppercorns, a few cloves of whole garlic, a leek, some white wine...and after you cook, make sure you season well w/ salt. Keep that cooking water, yes indeed; I would also hold onto any cooking water from boiled potatoes...and use both in combination with your favorite store-brand stock. Let me know how it all turns out.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 6, 2007 5:45 PM

Kim - you mention the ingredients for an impromptu veggie stock but not for chicken stock nor do you mention cooking times or amounts of water, could you help a stock challenged woman out? Thank you!

Posted by: Meg | February 6, 2007 7:43 PM

For a veggie version, do you think I could throw in some tofu? Do I need to drain/fry/bake it first? (I haven't cooked with tofu before, but my roommate and I are trying to keep the apartment vegetarian.) I'm already planning on potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and a bit of rosemary with a veggie stock + roux gravy and the biscuit topping method.

Posted by: Karen | February 9, 2007 4:43 PM

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