What to CookLeftovers

Remember This Simple, 4-Part Formula, Make Any Pot Pie

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What do you look forward to on Thanksgiving? The turkey? The stuffing? The pie? Personally, I find myself looking past the holiday and towards pot pie, which I especially appreciate as an excellent means of using leftovers, breathing new life into things like roasted carrots and turkey. Something about food in pie form seems like magic—as if covering them in a crust is transformational.

Another great thing about pot pie is its simple formula: Chicken (or turkey) + vegetables + thick sauce + crust = pot pie. That’s it, really!

Here's how to approach making pot pie without a recipe:

Just like magic.
Just like magic. Photo by James Ransom

1. The meat:

Decide your meat, if you will be using any. You could use leftover Thanksgiving turkey, braised chicken, beef, or just roast vegetables. When not using leftovers, I like to sear and then braise my chicken in the pot pie’s sauce (see below). The meat flavors the sauce, and the sauce gently cooks the meat.

Photo by James Ransom

2. The vegetables:

There are the classic vegetable options, such as potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and frozen peas. You have the option of either roasting the root vegetables or letting them cook in the sauce. Either works! Roasting is efficient and the high heat caramelizes the vegetables’ exterior, which means big flavor. On the other hand, cooking them in the sauce makes them very tender, so it’s really a personal preference. There’s really only two requirements, in my opinion: Onions and/or leeks should be added to the sauce pot after your meat is seared to cook in the meaty juices (if you're using leftover meat, just sauté the onions and/or leeks in olive oil or butter), and peas should be the last thing added so they remain bright green and tender. 

There is, of course, no need to restrict yourself to the classics. I always encourage using seasons to your advantage. Why restrict yourself when, in the midst of fall, there’s butternut squash, mushrooms, sunchokes, and hearty greens like lacinato kale and Swiss chard? Whatever vegetables you choose, chop, slice, peel, and prep accordingly. Even though it's more work, I like to cook all my vegetables separately, since each one requires different cooking times. If this isn't for you, just be aware that vegetables will cook at different rates and to give something like potatoes more time than kale.

See that thick sauce? It's what you want!
See that thick sauce? It's what you want! Photo by James Ransom

3. The sauce:

Sauce is the glue that holds pot pie together. To ensure you have a nice thick sauce, you need to make a roux (for a detailed explanation of how to do this, see here). Remember to not to let the roux brown too much. The point is to cook off the raw flour flavor and activate the starches, which will thicken the sauce. After your roux is ready, slowly whisk in chicken stock and bit of milk. In order for your roux to work its thickening magic, you need to allow this all to come to a boil and simmer briefly. After you have a nice, thick sauce, you can add your meat back to the pot (if not using leftovers) and simmer gently until it’s cooked through. Now’s also the time to add any vegetables you'd like to cook in the sauce, if you are not roasting them! When the meat is cooked, take it out of the sauce, and chop it.

We opted for pie crust.
We opted for pie crust. Photo by James Ransom

4. The crust:

If you want a light puffy flaky crust, you can make things easy for yourself and buy some puff pastry dough. Dufour makes a particularly good one. It will be frozen when you buy it and patience is key here: Take your time and let your crust defrost properly before trying to work with it. The other option is to use pie dough (this is my favorite recipe).

5. Now, put it all together:

Choose your ovenproof vessel. For individual pot pies, you can use medium-sized ramekins or small cast iron pots or skillets. For a large, family-style pot pie, opt for a cast iron skillet, baking dish, or even a pie plate. Anything ovenproof and deep enough to contain all the different components will work.

Add a mix of your vegetables and however much diced chicken, turkey, or meat of choice you like (adjust the amount of vegetables to meat depending on your desired ratio). Blanket with sauce. You want there to be a 1/2 inch between the sauce and the top of your container.

Use an egg wash to help your crust brown.
Use an egg wash to help your crust brown. Photo by James Ransom

Next, add your crust. An easy way to neatly get the crust on your dish is to roll it over a rolling pin and use the rolling pin to transfer it over, then unroll the dough off the rolling pin and onto your dish. Your dough should cover the container completely with a 1-inch overhang. Fold the dough’s edges under and crimp them with the tines of a fork to seal the crust. Add some deep slits in the center of each pot pie to allow the steam to vent and brush with egg wash (beat an egg with a teaspoon or two of water). I also like to sprinkle some coarse salt over the crust or grated Parmesan, if I'm feeling fancy.

Bake your pies in a 375° F oven until the crust has browned nicely and you can see the stew bubbling underneath, about half an hour. Remember everything under the crust is already cooked, so baking is really just for the lid.

Photo by James Ransom

What's in your favorite pot pie? Let us know in the comments!

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Thanksgiving, Tips & Techniques, (Not) Recipes