Written By: David Wilhelm of Tavern House
Having spent 40 years in the restaurant business, I have experienced many economic downturns that have directly affected our industry, but none quite as earth shattering as the current pandemic. Having to temporarily close Tavern House has certainly been traumatic to our staff, ourselves and to our devoted Guests as we are forced to distance ourselves from each other and put our daily routines on hold.
When I saw this coming, I started thinking about finding a way of maintaining contact with our friends in some meaningful way.
Not being able to serve our Guests at the restaurant, I thought about the next best thing and decided that, with everyone sheltering in their homes, even the most timid and inexperienced cooks might find themselves forced to do more cooking, either out of necessity or boredom or both. So, I am going to start posting some of my favorite ‘comfort food’ recipes simplified and designed for small batch preparation. I know not all of you will end up trying these, but for those that do, I am hopeful that you will be rewarded for your efforts. For those of you who don’t, tuck them away for the future and accept that this provides me with a chance to stay in touch with all of you until the time when we can re-open and see your smiling faces in person. Let’s all look to the time when, with a newly found appreciation for each other and for life in general, we can get back to celebrating the simple pleasures together each and every day.
I thank you in advance for allowing me to come into your homes.
We just recently introduced Sunday Suppers where we serve some of our favorite dishes. The first special was certainly one of America’s all-time favorites and one of my personal favorites as well… chicken pot pie. Like many American comfort food classics the pot pie’s origins go way back, in this case all the way to the ancient Egyptians where images of them can be found etched on tomb walls. Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry which were a primitive flour & water paste wrapped around meat which served to cook it and seal in the juices. When the Romans sampling these delicacies, they carried home recipes as part of their victory spoils when they conquered Greece. The bakers to the pharaohs and other wealthy and educated Romans used various types of meat in every course of the meal.
The delights of the pie spread throughout Europe, via the Roman roads, where every country adapted the recipes to their customs and foods and was eventually arrived in America brought by the European settlers.
Unlike many rustic one pot dishes the sauce and other ingredients are pre-cooked separately, assembled, covered with pastry and then popped in the oven to finish. This ensures that none of the ingredients will be under or over cooked and that the flavor and thickness of the sauce can be pre-determined.
Speaking of sauce, this is the most critical ingredient in making this dish flavorful. The second element is the pastry crust. I think the best versions are those where the pastry topping is homemade in the style of a pie crust, but this version uses a good quality, butter enriched, store bought puff pastry.
As an alternative to the pastry, you can also pipe mashed potatoes onto the top and it becomes a Shepherd’s Pie… Both equally delicious.
Finally, the nice thing about this dish is that it can be prepped several hours ahead and then popped into a hot oven for 30 minutes and you’re good to go. Served with a simple little green salad on the side and you’ve got yourself a tasty little cool weather lunch or dinner.
Before I share the recipe I want to encourage you to do a little free wheeling with the ingredients… Nothing is cast in stone… Cooking has always been both therapeutic and personally rewarding for me, so, try this dish and others soon to come in a relaxed approach to them… Have some fun, be creative adding your own personal touches and share them with those you love.
Chicken Pot Pie
1 tbs butter or olive oil
½ cup onions, diced finely
1 each large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbs. fresh thyme leaves (yes you can sub ½ tsp. dried thyme)
½ tsp. white pepper
1 tsp onion powder (don’t have it? don’t worry…)
2 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup cream sherry
4 cups chicken stock (canned works fine)
1 cup heavy cream
2 large carrots – diced into roughly ¼” pieces
2 cups cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 cups frozen peas with pearl onions, defrosted
1 tbs melted butter or olive oil
1-1/2 pounds cooked chicken, cooled, diced ½” pieces
1 box frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 each eggs, lightly beaten with 1 tbs water
First thing you want to do is make the sauce. Place butter or oil, onions and shallots in medium saucepan and sweat, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add thyme, white pepper, onion powder, salt and sherry and cook until sherry is reduced by approximately half. I suggest you use a cream good sherry, not cooking sherry, as this will ensure to impart a smooth and mellow flavor to the sauce. (I use Harvey’s Bristol Cream). Next add the chicken stock and cream, bring to boil and then, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will need to be thickened with a cornstarch slurry. Stir equal amounts of water and cornstarch together in a small bowl and slowly add to sauce while whisking. The thickness is a matter of personal preference but for this dish I would recommend making the sauce thicker than normal (think clam chowder consistency) as the vegetables and chicken will release juices as it bakes thinning the sauce somewhat. Adjust salt content to taste and set sauce aside too.
Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to boil and add carrots, cooking for 2-3 minutes until barely tender. Drain and reserve. Next you want to cook the mushrooms. I like tossing them in the melted butter, sprinkling with salt and pepper then roasting on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned and soft. This roasting process intensifies the flavor of the mushrooms but if you’re in a rush you can simply cook them in a large saute pan tossing and stirring until browned.
Next place 4 soufflé or straight sided bowls with lips on counter top. (They should have a capacity of about 16 ounces) In a separate bowl, mix the chicken and vegetables together. Pour about 1” of the sauce into the bottom of each bowl, then add the chicken & vegetable mixture evenly amount all bowls and top with remaining sauce. Sauce and ingredients should come near the top of the bowl.
Next place 4 soufflé or straight sided bowls with lips on counter top. (They should have a capacity of about 16 ounces) In a separate bowl, mix the chicken and vegetables together. Pour about 1” of the sauce into the bottom of each bowl, then add the chicken & vegetable mixture evenly among all bowls and top with remaining sauce. Sauce and ingredients should come near the top of the bowl. Place puff pastry sheets on a wood cutting board or lightly floured counter top and cut into 4 circles approximately 1” larger in diameter than the top of the bowls. Using a small pastry brush lightly brush the outer ½” of each pastry circle with the beaten egg.
Flip the pastry circles over and place atop the dishes so the egg side is down. Using your fingers press the outer edges of the pastry onto the side of the bowl below the lip to adhere firmly. It’s OK to press the pastry down the sides of the bowls to adhere well. Place the bowls in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or up to 4 hours before baking. When ready to bake, brush the entire surface of the pastry with the beaten egg, place them on a sheet pan, and place in a 375 degree oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until the pastry is well browned.
Remove from the oven and place on a plate and enjoy. Be careful when first puncturing the pastry as the escaping steam will be hot!