When I was a kid, my mom worked a lot, so we always had a Swanson or Banquet chicken pot pie in the freezer. I ate it, but I never liked the crust. It tasted mealy, didn’t bake evenly, and was either burned or raw in spots. A few years later I started buying Boston Market chicken pot pie because it had a better crust. This was when I started cooking professionally. The irony of being a chef is that you rarely have time to cook good food for yourself. As a new cook I was dirt-poor, and frozen chicken pot pie was a cheap, hearty, easy dinner after a long day of work. I developed a taste for it. This recipe is a homemade version of commercial frozen chicken pot pie. I know it sounds crazy, but I like certain things about the prefab variety, like perfectly cubed chicken and a rich, luscious filling. I use a premade all-butter crust, so the whole thing actually takes less time to cook than a frozen pot pie.
Feeds about 6 folks
All-butter pie crust – 2 deep-dish 9-inch crusts
Chicken stock – 2 1/2 cups
Chicken breasts – 1 pound boneless and skinless
Butter – 5 tablespoons
Carrots – 2, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1 1/4 cups
Onion – 1 baseball-size, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1 cup
Celery – 2 stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1/2 cup
Salt – 1 teaspoon
All-purpose flour – 1/3 cup
Dried culinary lavender – 1 teaspoon crumbled
Fresh thyme – 1 tablespoon leaves
Lemon – 1 plump
Egg yolks – 2
Heavy cream – 2 tablespoons + a little more for brushing the crust
Petite peas – 1 1/2 cups frozen
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. If the piecrusts are frozen, let them thaw for a few minutes while you gather all of your ingredients. Use a fork to evenly stab holes in the bottom of one of the pie crusts. This is called docking and helps to prevent the dough from puffing. Cover with foil and put pie weights or dried beans on the foil to prevent puffing. Bake until the edges start to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and carefully remove the weights and foil. Cut the heat down to 375°F, return the crust to the oven, and bake until golden brown, another 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and let the crust cool to room temperature. This process of baking the unfilled piecrust is called blind baking. It prevents the crust from getting soggy when you fill it with something liquidy. Keep the remaining piecrust chilled.
3. Heat the chicken stock over medium-high heat to a gentle simmer. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces, add to the stock, and poach for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a shallow bowl, spoon a little of the stock over the top, and refrigerate until cold. Cut the heat under the stock down to low.
4. Heat a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter and when the butter starts to bubble, add the carrots, onion, celery, and salt. Cook, stirring now and then, until the vegetables release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until melted. Stir in the flour so that all the vegetables are coated with a thick flour paste. Cook for 2 minutes. Start stirring, then slowly pour the stock into the vegetables and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, stirring nonstop. Stir in the lavender, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, and about 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the cream. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the hot filling into the yolks; this will temper the yolks so they won’t scramble when you combine them with the filling. Whisk the tempered yolks back into the filling in the Dutch oven and cook for 1 minute to fully incorporate the egg, whisking nonstop. The egg will give the sauce a velvety texture and a rich flavor.
6. Remove the cream sauce from the heat and gently fold in the chicken and the peas, which will cool the filling down to room temperature and help ensure a flaky crust. Taste the filling and add a little salt and/or lemon juice if you think it needs it. Mound the filling into the baked crust.
7. Put the unbaked pie crust on a lightly floured board and gently flatten to an even thickness. Set the unbaked crust on top of the chicken filling, pressing the edges with a fork to seal the top crust to the bottom crust. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape during baking. Brush the top with cream and sprinkle with coarse salt and a grind of pepper.
8. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and let rest for at least 25 minutes before serving.
Prep Ahead – You can bake the bottom crust and then cover and refrigerate it up to 2 days ahead of time. Then all you have to do is cook the filling, assemble the pie, and bake. Look for a premade all-butter crust or at least one that’s nice and flaky. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s make decent premade pie crusts. For the lavender, check the gourmet spice aisle. McCormick sells it.