Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie, Simplified

Well, promises, promises. I know I promised I'd post more this year... and now it's been over two months! I guess I underestimated this working full time and going to school thing. Oh well. But I am still cooking! And finally, I remembered to take some pictures of what I made.

Today it's a variation on chicken pot pie. Usually, making chicken pot pie is the biggest hassle in the world. You have to make the crusts, then you have to make the roux that binds everything together... not only is it a lot of time, but it's a lot of butter and other stuff that's not that great for you. So, to lighten it up and make it a weeknight dish, I make chicken cobbler. I got the base recipe from Mark Bittman at the New York Times. I basically vary the ingredients depending on what I have available for veggies and proteins, and so far it's worked with everything. I especially like parsnips in it!

Chicken Cobbler

For contents:

A few tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, chopped into longer strips (see The Great Pasta Dish (Jan '10) for cutting tips)
2 cups quartered button mushrooms
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp of dried rosemary (or one fresh sprig
4-5 diced red bliss potatoes
2 medium carrots, cut into coins
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For topping:

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk (Note: I never have buttermilk, and it is unnecessary to buy it for this recipe. Just warm a little milk in the microwave so it gets lukewarm. Then add a teaspoon of vinegar, stir it and wait five minutes. It will get chunky, and that's what you want.)

The trick to this recipe is just fortitude! It may look strange at certain points, but trust yourself! (And check with the pictures, too, if that helps.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take a deep skillet (a lot of ingredients are going in there) and put a few tablespoons of olive oil in; set heat on medium. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Then add mushrooms and cook until liquid has released and evaporated, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add chicken broth and rosemary; bring to a boil, and let bubble for a minute or two, then add carrots, potatoes, and chicken and reduce heat so it simmers. This is the part where it looks wrong, but is actually right. (See photo below)I always wonder if the chicken will ever get cooked like that, but it does.

Cook until carrots are almost tender and chicken is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Add more salt and pepper, then add peas and cook for about 30 seconds until the peas turn a bright green. Then just take a little of the broth (a few tablespoons), and whisk it with the cornstarch in a separate dish. Cornstarch is a thickener, and it stands in for the roux that usually is made. (This is also what ooblek is made of, if anyone cares to know). This is what will make your ingredients come together into a cobbler instead of a soup, which is what they probably look like now. Take that mixture of cornstarch and water, and add it back into your skillet. Mix it around for a few seconds until you can see it start to thicken, like so:

Then put the contents of the skillet into a casserole dish, and let it sit while you make the topping.

Put flour in a food processor with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add butter and process until mixture resembles small balls; don't grind it into thin air! The point is that the butter needs to be distributed throughout the mixture, but not disintegrated. Then,transfer mixture to a bowl and mix in "buttermilk" and egg until it just comes together; it should be sticky, and look pretty gross, like so:

In fact, when I looked back at these pictures, I said to myself, ew, what is that a picture of!? And then I remembered. So don't worry, it will come out delicious. Drop spoonfuls of the goopy batter on top of vegetables and chicken and smooth with a knife, covering as much surface area as possible but leaving a few gaps for steam to escape. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until golden on top and bubbly underneath. Scoop out into bowls (better this way, so it doesn't run all over your plate) and you're ready to eat!

This is a great dish for those April Shower days, (or April Snow days like my hometown is getting tomorrow), and it's super flexible, so you can add your own personal touch to it, depending on what veggies you like.


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