Ten years ago minus ten days, our chicken pot pie tradition began. It was Halloween and the doorbell kept ringing. Our kids were gone to college and beyond. We existed in the eerily quiet empty gap years between sending our girls off to start their lives and welcoming grandchildren, so we fought over answering the door to see the goblins and fairies.
I was covered up to my elbows with flour from the pie crust I rolled. Chicken chunks browned in butter in the pan. An open can of vegetables waited by the sour cream for mixing, and the preheating oven took the early fall chill from the kitchen. We were hungry and trying not to eat too much candy while we waited for our dinner to bake.
I cleaned up and let Mike answer the door for a while, tired from the day of teaching and research and thinking about an upcoming presentation I’d make in seminar. Time flies when I’m busy and soon the tricksters were home counting their loot and we could eat real food: my first chicken pot pie.
As a chemist, I know how to cook without a recipe. The gravy had thickened, the chicken had browned. The crust rolled like a dream. Yet when I sliced into the steaming pie, my knife hit solid. A stone? A bone? What in the world lurked at the bottom of my beautiful pie?
I used a spoon to scoop the first piece. It was heavy and fell apart as I lifted. With a tingling clink, a spoon (not my scooper) crashed to the table. A spoon. Baked in the pie. “Little Jack Horner…eating his Christmas pie…stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plum…”
You know what we did, of course. We chucked the hot and slimy spoon into the sink and ate it anyway. The only other available food was chocolate. And the pie, flavored by spoon, was delicious.
I remembered this baking fiasco this morning while I whipped up this year’s chicken pot pie. I won’t be home on Halloween, so the tradition must be flexible. There is no recipe to follow. It’s just in my head. But today I paid attention, so I give this pie to you. Try it and let me know how you do.
Laura’s Spoon-free Chicken Pot Pie
Brown a small chopped yellow onion in a blob of melted butter in a frying pan. Add about 1.5 pounds of chunks of boneless chicken thighs and brown. Add a half a cup of water and a package of brown gravy (or mushroom, or chicken, or whatever kind of powdered gravy you like). Stir in and boil for a minute. Then cover the pan and turn off the heat while you make the crust.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Place a cookie sheet in the oven for the pie to bake on, to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.
Mix 2.25 cups flour with a teaspoon of salt. Cut in 1 stick of butter. Add about a quarter or a third of a cup of sour cream and stir. Add milk to form dough. I just pour it from the jug. I think I added ~2 tablespoons milk and stirred, and then ~2 more tablespoons and stirred. You can tell you added enough when the flour is all wet (but not sticky) and the dough forms a ball when you stir with a fork. If it feels really sticky, add handfuls of flour and remix as needed.
No need to knead the dough. Just squeeze it all together and then rip it in half. Use your hands to form a ball, then flatten the ball and pinch around the edges to smooth it out before you roll it out on floured waxed paper (two 2-foot long pieces overlapped on the long edge by about three inches) until the circle is at least four inches larger in diameter than your pie pan. Try my flip trick: Put your forearm over the middle of the dough and lift the edge of the wax paper with your other hand to flip it into the pie pan. I put the pie pan on the right. Use my right forearm, and lift the waxed paper with my left hand. If you have trouble on your first try, don’t worry. That’s the bottom crust. Just do it the other way on the top crust (in a few minutes). Roll out the top crust and leave it there while you work on the filling again.
Back to THE FILLING
Stir in ~0.5 cup of sour cream. Stir in a drained 29 ounce can of mixed vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you have no idea how much to add, just don’t. You can add it when you eat it. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the solids to the pie shell. Boil down the remaining gravy and juices to about half volume and then spoon over the filling.
Back to THE CRUST
Do your flip trick to put the top crust on the pie. Fold the two layers of crust together and under all the way around. Pinch the edges to seal. You can press with a fork, or use your thumb and finger. I use the edge of my straight thumb and above the knuckle of my bent pointer finger. I suggest spinning the pie clockwise (and pinching around counter-clockwise) if you are right handed, or the other way for lefties. Do a light pinch at about 45 degrees. It’s more a press down than a pinch together. Lift your hand and place your thumb in the dent from your pointer finger and continue around. I usually give it an extra spin and re-pinch as needed. Use a pointy knife to make steam holes on the top.
Refer to my pictures to guide you so you know how it should look if all goes right. No need to bake in a spoon. It tastes the same either way, but it’s easier to slice without the metal surprise.
Bake for 10 minutes at 375F, then turn down the oven to 350F for 30-40 more minutes. The filling is already cooked, so you are really trying to bake and brown the crust. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn.
Note: On the second day, after resting in the fridge, slicing cold, and reheating, this chicken pot pie tastes even better. Some kind of magic.