Globally Inspired Flavours

Chicken Pot Pie

Pot pies are quick, convenient and can be made ahead and refrigerated for a day or two or frozen for up to 3 months. Made with chicken, beef or lamb and a variety of vegetables smothered in a thick gravy and topped with a buttery crust they are perfect for this time of year when we long for comfort foods. There are 2 ways to do a pot pie: in a clay or glass deep baking dish with a crust top or in a pie plate with a double crust. I prefer the one crust version myself, but, if you are making individual one or two serving pies the two crust works best.

Pie crust does not have a tasty or grand beginning. During Roman times and into the Middle Ages in Europe, pastry was merely a method of keeping meats and other savory fillings moist during cooking and thought to hermetically seal the filling in order to keep it from spoiling. Pastry then was comprised of  flour, suet(beef fat), eggs,  which made it dense and hard. Even though the crust was barely edible pies were often elaborate in their presentation. Some had designs on top as well as fancy clay stream funnels in the shapes of birds and other animals which were inserted into the unbaked crust and acted as a vents for the release of steam during cooking. The crust on these pies was never eaten by the household family members only the filling was enjoyed at the dining room table and the pastry would be left for the kitchen staff to consume.

The Oxford English Dictionary, in 1301, describes pie as “a dish of fruit, meat, fish, or vegetables, covered with pastry (or similar substance)  frequently also having a base and sides of pastry. Also, a baked open pastry case filled with fruit…”

The term “pie” is believed to have gotten it’s name from the “magpie”, a bird that collects a variety of different objects. European medieval pies had a variety of fillings in one pie, often a combination of several types of meat and fruits. Mincemeat pie started out as exactly that…Minced Meat with fruits such as raisins, apricots or dates. As pies evolved in Europe, and were later brought to North America they commonly became one primary ingredient instead of several.

The rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” has the mention of “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” and although the actual meaning of this rhyme has many interpretations including everything from espionage to pyrate code the reality of the lyrics likely come from the fact that during the Middle Ages people found it amusing to place live birds into pies. An Italian cookbook from 1549 contained a recipe which states: “to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and flie out when it is cut up”  this was also referred to in a cook book of 1725 by John Nott mentioning the wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV of France in 1600, “The first surprise, though, came shortly before the starter—when the guests sat down, unfolded their napkins and saw songbirds fly out of the pie.”

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup potato, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1/3 cup melted margarine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 cups chicken, cooked and chopped
pie crust (store bought or recipe below)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Saute onion, celery, carrots and potatoes in butter for 10 minutes. Add flour to sauteed mixture, stirring well Cook one minute stirring constantly. Combine broth and half and half.Gradually stir into vegetable mixture. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly. Stir in salt and pepper; add chicken and stir well. Pour into shallow 2 quart casserole dish and top with pie shells. Cut slits to allow steam to escape. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly and cooked through.

Yield 4 to 6 servings

FOOTNOTE: I like the idea that Sing a Song of Sixpence may have been used by Blackbeard as pyrate code. There is a very interesting and detailed analysis of this on Snopes.