The other week, my friend Bonnie and I were making plans for dinner…
It was a Thursday afternoon and we were going back and forth on text. Should we grab sushi? Burgers? Dumplings? I wanted to go out, but also, I was kind of in the mood to cook for people. I looked in the freezer and saw I had puff pastry and some chicken. If my kids weren’t in college, and still at home on their way back from practice or a friend’s house, I would’ve probably decided to make them chicken pot pie. I missed them.
Are you in the mood for chicken pot pie? I texted Bonnie, also an empty nester. I can cook and you can bring Jonathan.
The response was swift. YES.
A few hours later, four of us were sitting down at my kitchen table to chicken pot pie with a big green salad cobbled together from whatever was left in the crisper. I scooped nuts and gherkins into small bowls to snack on while we waited for the pie to bake. They brought two pints of ice cream for dessert. We marveled that none of the kids came up in conversation until over an hour into our meal (definitely a record), and by 9 p.m. all of us were on our respective sofas watching Netflix.
There had been none of the usual planning and list-making and shopping and chopping and crash cleaning and table-setting and votive-lighting, all of which would’ve definitely happened if there were dinner plans in the calendar for, say, a Saturday night when expectations (to me, at least) feel higher. But for a weeknight dinner? It was like I was cooking for my family. It felt good. It felt easy. And as soon as they left, my mind raced with other ways I could harness the low-key factor in order to focus on what mattered: seeing my friends more. Everyday chili with cornbread? A big pot of butternut squash soup and a crusty baguette? A few mushroom-and-olive pies from the corner pizzeria? This is going to be fun.
Chicken Pot Pie
This is my turkey pot pie, just using chicken. Don’t forget to thaw your puff pastry ahead of time. Makes 4 generous servings or 6 medium servings.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped into large chunks
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cups peeled and chopped carrots (from about 2-3 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (from 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup milk (any kind, preferably whole)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (use a store-bought rotisserie and don’t forget to chop up that crispy skin, too!)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 store bought puff pastry, such as Dufour brand, rolled out gently on a floured surface, to the approximate size it would take to drape over your baking dish by about 1 inch all around
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Add the butter and olive oil to a large pot or Dutch Oven set over medium heat, then add the onion, celery, carrots, thyme leaves, a generous amount of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until onions have browned slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the potatoes, and add the broth. (Vegetables should just barely be submerged.) Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are mostly tender — they’ll cook more in the oven.
While the vegetables are simmering, in a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the milk and flour. Slowly add the flour–milk mixture, along with Worcestershire sauce, to the pot, and turn up the heat to medium. Stir and cook until the filling gets bubbly and thickened. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chicken and peas.
Add the pot pie filling to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle Parmesan on top of the filling and cover with the puff pastry, making sure there is a little bit of overhang on all sides. (You don’t have to crimp it.) Cut 6 to 8 slits on the top to allow the steam to escape while baking. Using a pastry brush, thoroughly (and gently) paint the surface with the egg wash, which will result in a gorgeous golden sheen.
Place the pie in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes, but keep an eye on it! If the top darkens before 20 minutes, cover loosely with foil (don’t wrap it, just place loosely on top). Bake until the pastry is puffy and golden and the filling is bubbling through the slits. It should look big and puffy all around the perimeter, all the more dramatic for presenting! The middle might collapse a little, but that’s okay.
(Chicken pot pie photo by Yossy Arefi for Cup of Jo.)