CHICKEN POT PIE and other crusts

I’ll begin with a comment, or perhaps it’s a disclaimer about pastry dough/pie crusts.  Back in the good or bad old days, I worked as a baker in a longtime & beloved restaurant in Harvard Square, Cambridge.  When you make something by the dozens, every day, five days a week, you get pretty good at it.  Among the many sweet and/or yeasty treats we produced, there are three items I recall turning out with pride: French bread, chocolate cakes and pie crusts.

So I know that I can do it and in fact I believe anyone can make a good pie crust, with a little practice.  There are many “fool proof” recipes around and the ones I’ve tried are pretty good.  If learning to make a good pie crust is a goal for you, I say “Have at it!”  Don’t be intimidated: it’s not rocket science. Click here for  STANDARD PIE CRUST RECIPE.

That said, if time is an issue for you, as it often is at my house, there is nothing wrong with buying a crust.  I am not a fan of the frozen pie shell…I’ve had too many that are cracked, freezer-burned and just dry and tasteless.  I was pleased when “ready made” crusts appeared in the dairy case of local markets.  There is a popular name brand and many chains now have their own product.

What is nice, in addition to reliable quality, is that when you unroll these babies, if you want to, you can customize.  Sprinkle on some cinnamon and sugar if you are making something sweet, like an apple pie, or some dried herbs, grated parmesan and/or garlic powder if you are assembling something savory, like a quiche.  A quick roll out with a rolling pin presses these flavorings into the dough and you are good to go.

Purists (my dear friends among them) may sneer at this shortcut, but I say if the 15+ minutes saved means I can make a homemade CHICKEN POT PIE for supper, I can handle the scorn.  Maybe it’s obvious that my personal cooking life style at this point in my life requires a blend of practical, healthy and tasty.

CHICKEN POT PIE comes together so easily, it seems almost wrong.  If you have leftover shredded chicken, give it a chop into bite-sized pieces.  If not, it’s back to the FOOLPROOF CHICKEN POACHING and another opportunity to use some of the poaching liquid. And once again, like the COUSCOUS CURRY, while the chicken quietly poaches, you get to chop the veggies and it all comes together quickly.

This is not a “30-minutes-and-it’s-on-the-table” weeknight meal, because it will take up to one hour to bake in the oven.  However, I’ve been known to make the filling in the morning or even the night before, while cooking or cleaning up.  Then I can waltz into the house at 5 PM, pull the filling & ready made crusts from the refrigerator and in 20  minutes it’s in the oven & I get to enjoy that precious and delightful out-of-the-kitchen experience (take a walk, play with the dog, read a book, even a quick nap.)  When we sit down to eat, it’s as if someone else cooked for me!  I love that.

One other note:  I’ve discovered that making the filling early, so that it has time to cool first, really does make it easier to build the pie.

I generally make CHICKEN POT PIE in my favorite cast iron skillet, but it can be made in any round pie plate or casserole.  Click on the link to find the recipe.

I like to make a few small cuts in the top crust with a sharp knife, for steam to escape and because it looks so professional when the filling bubbles out a little.  One hour in the oven, checking after 45 minutes to see if it’s browning evenly.  If you can wait 10 minutes or so, after it comes out of the oven, it will serve more neatly.

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