Thursday, April 17, 2014
In the well-tread zone of comfort food, chicken pot pie is clearly a favorite. It’s one of the reasons why I generally roast a large chicken (at least 5 pounds) for the benefit of leftovers in such dishes as pot pie. While the filling is fairly standard, the pastry that wraps it all up, so to speak, is an essential ingredient
What I offer here is a unique method of making a savory pastry dough. I came across it many years ago while researching an article on English pastry dough that I wrote for Gourmet Magazine.
I no longer have the issue in which it appeared (sometime in the early 1980s), and even after a daunting internet recipe search, archive accessibility was limited.
I remember the recipe because I never stopped making it since it was so good. I found it in a collection of recipes on pastry dough typical to the 1800s in an old English cookery book, which, sadly, is also missing. It might have been from either Eliza Acton or Mrs Beeton, two culinary powerhouses of their day (mid to late 1800s). I keep on hoping to hear Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Patmore recite her recipe for Royal Pastry, as this recipe was known.
What was also interesting about this chapter on pastry dough is that these simple crusts were made by “giving it a few turns,” as you would for the more complicated puff pastry. This may have occurred because British cooks aspired to their French counterparts across the channel where making puff pastry (which requires many turns) or anything resembling it was a rite of passage.
The method, however, also defies every principle of handling the dough as little as possible. Instead It calls for first kneading it slightly and doesn’t require prolonged chilling time; and the process of giving it a few turns gives it incredible flakiness of layers that develop like puff paste.
Royal pastry dough after first rolling out; give it a quarter turn to the right--first turn--and chill for 5 to 10 minutes
The ingredients are somewhat unusual, too. In addition to the flour, salt and butter, the final moistening of the dough is not water but heavy cream. What results is this very buttery, tender dough that rises like puff pastry and has an incomparably fine flakiness and texture.
It wouldn’t hurt to use the best butter and cream you can find. I’ve made it with any of the high-fat European style butters as well as such local brands as Maine Country Butter and Bisson’s raw-cream butter. As for the cream, Bisson’s raw heavy cream is about the finest and richest you can find here. It works beautifully in this dough. But Smiling Hill’s pasteurized heavy cream would be an acceptable alternative.
The chicken pie filling is one that I’ve made over the years. The pie was assembled in a 7- by 10-inch baking dish. But you can increase it to an 8 by 11 or similar size. If you go much bigger than that, either 9 by 13 or 12 by 15 or 18, double the recipes for the pie filling, the white sauce and the pastry dough.
Diced vegetables being sauteed before peas, chicken and heavy cream are added
Note that in the pastry recipe, it doesn’t call for much chilling of the dough. But if time or circumstances allow, letting it rest longer won’t affect it in the least.
Pie filling in the baking dish before it gets covered with the white sauce; let the sauce cool slightly before affixing the pastry on top
Chicken pot pie with royal pastry
Servings: 4 to 6
Chicken pot pie with English royal pastry
1 pound leftover chicken from a roasted bird, white and dark meat, cut into large chunks
3 tablespoons butter
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots (varied colors), cleaned and diced
2 to 3 medium large potatoes, peeled and diced
10 to 12, or more, pearl onions, blanhced and peeled
1 cup frozen green peas (or fresh in the summer, parboiled for 5 minutes)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch dried oregano
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme
About 1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 cups cups warmed milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper (preferably white), to taste
English royal pastry dough
8 ounces flour (see Note)
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Heavy cream, to glaze
Sea salt, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Filling. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add all of the diced vegetables coating in the butter. Lower the heat to medium low. Add the spices, stir and sauté, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables get slightly softened. Add the chicken and the cream, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes until the cream reduces slightly. Set aside.
Pastry dough. Put the flour into the work bowl of a food processor and add the salt. Pulse twice to mix.
Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times until the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually add the cream, pulsing as you do, until the dough holds together well and is slightly moist. Add more cream if necessary. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead several times until formed into a roughly shaped square.
Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 9 by 12 inches or at least an inch larger than the baking dish. It should be about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Fold in thirds like a business letter. It will now be horizontal on your work surface. Give it a quarter turn to the right so that it’s vertical. Put on a plate to chill refrigerated, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Roll out for the second time, following the same procedure of folding, turning and setting to rest on a plate to chill. On the third turn roll out to desired size to finish off the preparation of the pie or let rest, folded and refrigerated while you make the béchamel to add to the final dish.
Béchamel. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot. Add the flour and stir briskly over medium heat with a whisk until well blended. Let cook several minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour in, off the heat, one third of the milk, stirring to combine. It will be thick and pasty. Add the next third of milk, off the heat, stirring briskly until combined and then put back on the heat adding more milk, whisking, until the sauce is a medium-thick creamy consistency. Add more milk if necessary.
To assemble. Fill the casserole with the chicken mixture. Pour the white sauce over this. Allow it to cool slightly. Then affix the pastry dough over this, folding the overhang under to form a border that you’ve pinched with thumb and forefinger for a decorative edge. Glaze the top with a light brushing of heavy cream. Make three slits in the pastry for the steam to escape and sprinkle lightly with sea salt over the dough. Set the dish onto a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is puffed and lightly golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Note: If you don’t have a kitchen scale to measure the flour, 8 ounces is equivalent to about a shy 2 cups of flour if you use the scoop and sweep method of measuring (spoon the flour into a cup until it’s brimming over the top and level it using the back edge of a knife).
Serving size of chicken pot pie with its creamy filling
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.