Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the ongoing cooking blog that is three bad decisions away from implosion at any given time. I’m your writhing god of Madness, Jon O’Guin. Today’s recipe is a beautiful conglomeration of paradoxes: A single-serving dish rendered on a scale for many; A dish made of “by-products” larger than the actual desired product; and an attempt to slip in some medicinal merit that may have become an attempted poisoning. All this and more awaits us as we explore Party-sized Chicken Pot Pie.
What Tangled Webs We Weave, When We Seek To Feed
Let’s talk about intentionality in cooking. Actually, you know what? Let’s not. It’s currently almost midnight, and in the last 36 hours I’ve slept for 4, which is 1 hour LESS than the amount of acting I’ve done in the same window. Further, I’m pretty sure roughly 33% of the calories I’ve consumed in that time have been alcohol-based. So let’s burn my mental thesaurus for the next half hour, so I can crank out enough text that Monday morning Jon doesn’t hate Sunday Jon, before I pass out.
At one point this weekend, I became momentarily enthralled by how dark my Guinness was, despite having drunk Guinness for years, and KNOWING how dark it is.
So, pretentious words aside, let’s talk about using the whole hog, and when it can lead to silly shit.
Last April, my mother and I ended up dining at a Thai restaurant called Little Uncle’s in Seattle. It had been on my radar for some time, as it specialized in Chicken Khao Soi, a Northern Thai curry soup that is my single favorite Thai DISH. We went, I tried the soup, and it was pretty good. (Not my favorite, to be honest, due to a few small personal preferences. Like if you really like a specific type of noodle in your chicken noodle soup, and the restaurant uses handmade noodles of a different variety, that kind of deal.) While there, we also tried some Thai Steamed Buns, which are small packets of meat, sauce, and veggies in a bun of ridiculous softness and airiness. We tried the pork belly, and the chicken skin buns, and both my mother and I were very impressed by the chicken skin buns. The salty snap of the fried chicken skins in the soft pillows of dough, the hoisin and jalapeño…the dish was brought up time and again by my mother as something she wanted to have again.
The problem is: turns out that no one in our area just sells raw chicken skins. And we checked thoroughly. For months, it was the kind of thing I kept an eye out for while shopping, or plugged a new keyword into Google every few weeks to see if maybe something like X was in the area and would have it. All to no avail.
Meat For Your Maker
Eventually, we came up with a solution: sure, we couldn’t buy straight chicken skin. But there were plenty of chicken products we could buy with the skin on, and then we’d just need to process and cook whatever we picked.
So of course we settled on 4 pounds of bone-in chicken breast.
Apparently, I didn't take any pictures of all the chicken while raw. So just imagine this is uncooked for a couple minutes.
Hence my earlier paradox: we bought 4 pounds of chicken breast so we could acquire roughly 3 ozs of chicken skin. Our by-product was larger than the actual desired product! Which isn’t an unheard-of event in cooking history, I should note. At one point, English spice merchants asked their Caribbean plantations to increase production of Mace (a now-relatively unknown spice, not like, free-growing pepper spray) and lower production of Nutmeg. The problem with that is, well, Mace is a coating of Nutmeg seeds. For a mental picture, if you’ve ever eaten peanuts in the shell, inside the shell there’s that papery coating around the actual nuts? Mace and nutmeg.
So, I quickly manhandled the breasts, a job I’ve been asked to do with surprising frequency in my life, and removed the skin, an aspect of the job I’ve NEVER been asked to do before, thankfully.
SAVIOR OF THE CHICKEN SKIN
Then, it was time to make some pot pie. Because throwing away 4 pounds of chicken is not something my family does. The recipe I used for this enormous pot pie comes from a site I haven’t sourced in a while: food52. Specifically, a modified version of a recipe posted by campagnes. It’s a recipe with several steps, but they’re all quite simple.
First, you simply salt and pepper the chicken, and bake it for a while. While it cooks, let’s discuss why this recipe calls for bone-in chicken breast. The answer is likely simple: the author doesn’t note why they personally use them, but I can infer because of a step they include in the recipe: “Discard skin and bones after cooking”. That’s a pretty common step for chicken breast recipes, and it implies that the bone is simply there for flavor. Yes, bones add flavor to meat, as well as moisture: the process is a little too complicated to get into right now, so we’ll cover it Thursday. Just accept it for the moment, and I’ll explain later. An instruction I’ve asked OTHERS to do with surprising frequency.
Things get Spicy
Once that out of the way, it’s time to whip up some pot-pie filling. Which traditionally would be a mirepoix, a mixture of onion, celery, and carrot. This recipe cheats and adds the carrot later, so it’s just onions and celery for now.
Sweat them down in a fair bit of butter to soften them up, and now it’s time to rue the day. Wait, sorry, typo. Now it’s time to ROUX the day. Toss some flour in the pan, and stir it up to thicken. This is a step that…irritates me in a lot of recipes, but it serves a vital function. As we’ve discussed before, a roux is simply a combination of flour and fat, used to thicken (and flavor) sauces. IN my early culinary “training”, I always thought of it as a singular thing: mix the flour and fat, cook a bit, add stuff. The thing is, from a technical standpoint, the order doesn’t need to be precise, and breaking it up can actually have beneficial effects. By making our roux with the onion and celery already sweated in it, the fat has become flavored, meaning that the mixture will more evenly season the resulting sauce. It’s a valid technique that always makes a tiny purist part of me squirm.
Seriously, whenever I see something like this, my inner Frenchman sniffs in disgust.
Anyway, then you add chicken stock, milk, and some seasonings. Bring to boil, and simmer until thickened up, and boom, you’ve got a sauce And here’s where you can get tricky. Now, a standard chicken pot pie likely relies on a couple elements for flavor: a bay leaf is somewhat traditional, salt and pepper are a given, mirepoix of course, and then things get a little more loose. Thyme is very common, as are herbs like tarragon, oregano, or parsley. Marjoram is found pretty frequently. But here’s the thing: those are for traditional chicken pot pie flavors. If you want, you can really go buck-wild. Toss in some curry and chili powder for something like an Indian samosa. Hit it with some cumin and corn for a southwest flair. I personally wanted to add something that had a secretive purpose.
A plot to re-establish English Sovereignty?
Turmeric is a root often ground into powder, and mainly used as a coloring agent. It’s partly why yellow mustard is so vibrant, and it’s the orange color in curry powder. However, Indian folk medicine holds that it’s also anti-inflammatory. This claim hasn’t been supported with clinical trials, but I didn’t really look that up at the time. I simply knew the conventional wisdom, and thought to myself: what’s an easy way to add some anti-inflammatory power to my father’s pantry. Most of the dietary options I knew of, namely olive oil, fatty fish, garlic, cayenne, and ginger, fell into culinary categories that he wasn’t a fan of. So, I thought, let’s just add a couple dashes of turmeric to the pot pie filling, and boom, an instant hit of anti-inflammatory spice. So I shook in a couple dashes, chuckling to myself, and pleased we still had usable Ground Turmeric around. It’s not a spice I’d really expect my parents to buy, and I hadn’t brought it to the kitchen. The bottle even…looks…pretty…old…
I’ve referenced the movie Anastasia a couple times over the course of this blog. It was a fun movie of my childhood, and had a song that is my personal go-to example of Waltz timing, (“Once upon a December”) however, it’s not often I bring up the movie for temporal reasons. I do so now, because this bottle of ground turmeric was “Best before” ANASTASIA’S THEATRICAL RELEASE.
Ancient Runes translated for your convenience.
It’s TWENTY YEARS PAST EXPIRATION. Are you KIDDING ME? HOW IS THIS STILL HERE? Luckily, some quick research told me, that simply meant that the turmeric was, at this juncture, essentially inert. If there WERE any anti-inflammatory properties to the powder, or even FLAVOR properties, they were gone years ago. I had just added basically powdered food coloring to the dish. Somewhat shaken by this, I kind of rushed through the remaining steps. You line a casserole dish with pie crust, you shred the chicken and chop it into bite-sized chunks, and you toss it into the sauce with some frozen peas and carrots.
Top the whole mixture with more pie crust, and apply an egg wash. An egg wash, if I haven’t covered it recently, is a simple mixture of a beaten egg, sometimes beaten with a splash of milk or water, brushed on the top of the pastry. This creates a better browning due to the added proteins, as well as a kind of sheen, making your baked goods look more ‘professional’ when finished.
Total pro look here. Unlike that turmeric debacle of a bit ago,
Let that sucker bake for 45 minutes, and dinner is served.
Hey, that doesn't look half-bad!
How did it turn out? Really good, actually. From a recipe intended to serve 8, only a serving and a half survived the evening, with everyone in the house taking another scoop of the mix. Despite the many seasoning failings, and the silly start to the dish, it was actually one of our great successes in the popularity category. If you serve it to your family, I’m sure they’ll like it too. (Just, you know, check your spices BEFORE you add them.)
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THURSDAY: BONES, HUH, GOOD GOD LORD, WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?
MONDAY: WHAT HAPPENED WITH THOSE CHICKEN SKINS? AND WHY IS JON CRYING ALONE IN A KITCHEN?
Casserole Pot Pie
3-4 premade pie crusts, thawed
1 tbsp water
4 large skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
3 tbsps butter
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
3 tbsps flour
2 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup milk
½ tsp herbes de provence
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper,
1/8 tsp ground turmeric
1 bay leaf
¾ tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 lb frozen pea/carrot mix
- (Remove skin for next week’s recipe) Season chicken with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until juices run clear; allow to cool, shred & chop meat, then set aside.
- Line a large, deep casserole dish with 1-2 pie crusts; set aside.
- Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, sweat them gently for about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
- Whisk in the broth. Add the milk, seasonings, and bay leaf, then increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir constantly for about 6-8 minutes, or until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.
- Stir in the vegetables and chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour chicken mixture into pie crust(s); top with another crust. If using an intact top crust, cut 3-4 slits in the top. Brush with egg wash.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.