Chicken pot pies are one of the most Googled recipes on the Internet. It’s not surprising, since the word conjures up visions of breaking through a blanket of golden, flaky pastry to dig into a creamy sauce brimming with juicy, tender chicken pieces. What’s not to love about that?
World-renowned Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck, who caters the official Oscar parties, is a confessed pot pie aficionado. When he includes tiny chicken pies on his menu, he adds shavings of luxurious black truffles. He always marvels at how happy his guests are to cut through the puff pastry, releasing a wonderfully aromatic steam. But then again, that’s the essence of chicken pot pie—comforting and soul soothing—and that’s what makes it a classic.
Thank goodness there are as many versions of pot pie today as there are pizza toppings. Few include truffles but many are superbly addictive. Announce at a dinner party you’re serving chicken pot pie, and oohs and ahs usually follow.
Even the frozen ones sold today are a far cry from those you used to devour in front of the TV. Then a gluey grayish sauce held uptight chicken pieces, greyish peas and tinny carrot cubes, and the pastry, to the best of my memory, was cardboard-esque. Now supermarkets offer a range of excellent versions, including a butter chicken filling under a crispy crunchy phyllo crust.
Getting that at home doesn’t require culinary skill or a big time commitment. Begin with a jar of butter chicken sauce; add big cubes of chicken from a supermarket rotisserie bird; and throw in frozen peas, carrots and roasted peppers from a jar. Cover it in style with light layers of golden phyllo, each with a melted buttery brushing, and a final layer of scrunchy gossamer-like golden phyllo.
There are no rules to building a perfect pot pie. It totally depends on personal taste and the time you want to spend. My current entertaining favourites are Italian Chicken Pie With Fennel and Lightly-Curried Party Pot Pie. I make the filling ahead, speed tracked with a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce or can of coconut milk. Then, just before the guests arrive, I warm it, blanket with a sheet of pre-rolled frozen puff pastry and bake during the cocktail hour.
On FoodNetwork.com, the most searched ingredient is chicken, and the top pot pies are Ina Garten’s and Sunny Anderson’s. They’re both straightforward, with ingredients like chicken bouillon cubes, chicken broth, frozen peas and frozen pearl onions. The only seasoning for one is salt and pepper—proving you don’t need to be fancy to be popular.
When you’re in the mood to make ahead, do pies for the freezer. Individual pies are the easiest to reheat. You can thaw all in the refrigerator or bake from frozen. Our Individual Lemony Pot Pies are made in those little foil pans sold in most dollar stores. When entertaining, you can make the filling a few days ahead, then lay on the pastry before guests arrive and bake during the cocktail hour.
Healthy ways to update this comfort dish: use white chicken meat only, 2% milk for the sauce instead of cream and lots of vegetables, including cooked carrots or sweet potatoes and pepper strips. Top with phyllo brushed with olive oil instead of butter.
Check our healthy choice shepherd’s pie with a mashed celery root and apple topping. Our Chicken, Wild Rice And Mushroom Pot Pie is made with 2% evaporated milk and lots of kale, and the phyllo is brushed with olive oil versus the usual butter. Plus, it’s simple to make: phyllo is layered in the pie plate, then the filling is added and sheets are folded over so it looks gift-wrapped.
Begin by heating condensed cream of chicken or mushroom soup, or a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce. Add cubes of chicken from a supermarket rotisserie bird or a package of chicken strips, plus frozen peas or frozen mixed vegetables and red pepper strips. Jazz it up with poultry seasonings and sliced jalapenos. Top with a sheet of frozen pastry. Check out this Chicken Pot Pie.
Priming for a Party
On the entertaining front, I recommend our Italian Chicken Pie, Lightly-curried Party Pot Pie and Chicken, Wild Rice, and Mushroom Pot Pie.
To fast-track a party pie while keeping it in the “upscale category,” begin with a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce. Add sautéed mushrooms (shiitake kick it up a notch), a bag of frozen pearl onions (lot faster than peeling), roasted red peppers strips (they’re sold in jars; just rinse well) and cooked baby carrots. Consider sautéed asparagus tips, sautéed shallots, drained jar of artichoke hearts and sliced olives. If you use puff pastry, do pastry cut-outs and use to decorate the crust. If you use phyllo, scrunch up the top layer. For a casual get-together, consider our Chicken Tamale Pie spiked with salsa and jalapenos. There is no better way to have a chicken in every pot. Learn more.
Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg