Taking Comfort: “Food is the most primitive form of comfort.” -Shelia Graham

A tall stack of fluffy pancakes dripping with buttered maple syrup. A dose of silky mashed potatoes with creamy butter. A bowl of pasta shells cloaked in bubbling cheese. Old-fashioned meatloaf. Or a warm blueberry cobbler, fresh from the oven and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that starts to melt and pool around the hot fruit in a beautiful mess. Man, oh, man. No matter what defines the ultimate comfort food for you, there is one universally common denominator we all share: we all need it, we all crave it. Especially this time of year.

Perhaps it’s those nostalgic nuances sparked by down-home food that takes us back to our childhood, satisfying us to the core, like wrapping us tightly in a warm blanket on a cold fall night. Or maybe it’s the reassuring predictability of nurturing foods from our past that soothe the psyche and feed the soul.

Whatever it is, everyone loves comfort food and for me, the dish that epitomizes that notion is chicken pot pie. I wish I could credit a secret family recipe, hand written and anciently stained with smears of butter and dabs of heavy cream, romantically handed down from generation to generation for my being completely enamored with this savory baked casserole and its signature  flaky, crusty lid. But, sadly, I cannot. As children, we were fed Swanson’s chicken pot pies from the freezer section (and, seriously, wasn’t everyone back in the day? I now shudder at the thought of the ingredient list but I digress.). When this convenience food was on the menu, it quite literally would elicit a cheer. It made everybody so happy! You got your very own individual serving that came in a baby aluminum bowl! When it was time to eat, you’d start with the pastry first – the half-moon pieces that initially broke off were the most coveted. Then you’d concentrate on the baked on parts around the rim while you waited for the smoking hot filling to cool enough for you to eat it (this step was crucial and for chicken pot pie eating pros only – otherwise, you’d risk inflicting third degree burns on the roof of your mouth). Then, you’d dig around and stab that one piece of chicken, followed by the lone cube of potato. A few more bites to retrieve the now somewhat soggy bottom crust and you were finished. Quite disappointing now that I think about it, but we all enjoyed those occasional frozen dinners. Truth be told, the best thing about them, really, was the pastry crust and honestly, there wasn’t enough of it to justify the 45 minute wait for the thing to come out of the oven. But they were hard to resist, especially in those little novelty containers. I think that’s where my completely unhealthy obsession love of serving so many things individually comes from.

This is my version of the childhood favorite all grown up. I’ve been making this recipe for years but streamlined the process to save you some time. It’s loaded with lots of flavorful chicken, tons of veggies in a creamy, velvety sauce that’s generously topped with buttery pastry. Real food. Real ingredients. And, real good.

How comforting is that?

Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie

Author: Cheryl Beverage Barnes
Recipe type: Entree, Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie
Serves: 6
Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie
Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients

  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup peeled and small-diced potatoes
  • 1 cup peeled and small-diced carrots
  • 1 cup celery, small-diced
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 cups diced, cooked chicken
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, plus 1 tablespoon water, lightly beaten
  • double portion Indispensable Pie Dough (see link below)

Instructions

  1. Lightly coat 6 (1-1/2 cup capacity) ovenproof soup crocks or ramekins with cooking spray and place on a large baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, potatoes, carrots and celery. Season with a little more salt and pepper and stir to coat all the vegetables with the butter and oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes then add the stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add in the chicken and peas and cook for 5 minutes more. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in the half-and-half, whisking constantly until smooth. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thick. Add in the thyme and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning. Pour the sauce into the chicken mixture and stir to combine. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the filling to cool to lukewarm, about an hour.
  4. Ladle enough pot pie mixture to fill each ramekin almost to the top. Brush the outside of the rim of each crock or ramekin with the egg wash.
  5. Roll out your dough and cut out pastry rounds a little bigger than the crock or ramekin; place on top of each dish, crimping the excess decoratively. Pierce the surface several times with a sharp knife, brush the tops with some egg wash and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Allow the pot pies to cool slightly before serving.

Notes

…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:

Planning: Both the filling and the pie dough can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 8 hours (the pie dough will keep longer) before assembling and baking. You can switch out the pie dough for biscuit dough or puff pastry.

Product Purity: I use all-natural Kitchen Basics stocks (no added MSG). If you’re going to use puff pastry, Dufour Pastry Kitchens makes an all-butter one (unlike the grocery store brands that are made with hydrogenated oil).

Presentation: You can bake the pot pie in a larger casserole, if desired, but I think individual portions make for an extra-special treat. A crisp side salad rounds out the meal.

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