The nights have been cold, which is the perfect time to make a hearty, comforting chicken pot pie.
On this particular evening, a dear friend was coming to dinner, and while I didn’t have a ton of time, I wanted it to feel special and, most of all, for her to feel welcome and taken care of. I lit all the candles I could find and turned off the overhead lights. We had a simple salad to start while the pot pie sat in the middle of the table, bubbling and crackling as it cooled. Before we knew it, it was cool enough for us to scoop into bowls to enjoy for the main course.
I don’t believe it is possible to make this and not think “wow,” especially if you have been out and about in winter weather all day. There is nothing precious about this recipe. I don’t spend time thinking about cutting the vegetables perfectly. This is a hearty, rustic stew where big pieces (around 1 inch) are just fine. You could easily make this vegetarian by leaving out the shredded chicken and using vegetable broth.
Let’s also talk about the chicken broth and shredded chicken. You could roast a whole chicken, pull four cups of meat off the bones, then make a broth. You could buy broth separately and cook chicken breasts and or legs separately for shredding. Or you could buy a rotisserie chicken, break it into pieces, cover it with cold water and any vegetable scraps you have lying around and bring it to a simmer for 30 minutes before transferring the large pieces of chicken to a bowl and straining the remaining broth through a fine mesh strainer. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick all the meat from the bones, and there you have both your chicken and your broth. During that 30 minutes when the broth is simmering is the perfect time to prepare all the other vegetables.
And my favorite thing about a dish like this is how wonderful it lends itself to making it ahead of time. You could make the stew weeks before and keep it frozen until the night before you want to bake it. Then all you have to do is transfer the stew to a pot and top with puff pastry, egg wash and throw it in the oven. If you keep a box of puff pastry in the freezer, too, at any given time you are fully prepared to put together a meal that is equal parts simple and special — my kind of holiday cooking.
Chicken and red chile pot pie
Makes: 8 servings;
total time: 2 hours
2 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
1 pound mushrooms, diced or quartered depending on size
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon High Desert Herbs or herbes de Provence
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 large carrots, sliced
¼ cup all-purpose flour (or other flour of choice)
2 cup mild red chile purée (or 1 16-ounce container defrosted)
5 cups (1 quart) chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
4 cups cooked shredded chicken
1 bunch dinosaur kale (or any kind of kale you want), large ribs removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, whisked to make an egg wash
Preparation: In a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a bowl to reserve. Add the mushrooms to the bacon fat and cook until the water cooks out and the mushrooms caramelize. Add the garlic and herbs. Cook another minute or so stirring frequently. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the bacon bits and reserve.
Add butter to the empty pot and once it’s melted, add the onion and carrots. Cook until the onions start to soften, around 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the chile purée, chicken broth and cream. Use a wooden spoon to scrape any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring this to a boil. Add the potatoes, shredded chicken and reserved bacon and mushrooms. Lower the heat to a simmer. Let this simmer until the potatoes are just tender, around 30 minutes. Add the kale and cook for another few minutes, just until the kale wilts into the stew.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the sheet of cold puff pastry over the top of the stew. Use a paring knife to trim any excess dough around the perimeter of the pot. I like to cut strips or shapes with the leftover dough and arrange this over the top of the flat sheet of puff pastry for decoration. Cut a few slits in the top of the dough with the knife to let the stream escape during baking and brush the top generously with the egg wash. At this stage, I also like to crack a bit of sea salt and black pepper over the top, then transfer the pot to the oven to bake for 1 hour. Serve by scooping into bowls.