Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pie

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The calendar may say March but the weather here is not really cooperating. It’s been rainy and windy and cold the past week for which the only cure is hot and comforting food. There are lots of options with this “theme” but there’s one in particular that I’ve been craving. Since we drove past a sign for the Marie Callendar’s outlet after a weekend in Santa Barbara, all I can really think about it chicken pot pie.

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But chicken pot pie has been done. I mean, I have a great recipe for it and I’m sure you do too (and if not, check out this one). So instead, I started thinking about how to shake up the recipe without losing the basic elements – a good crust and a creamy gravy to hold it together. I also love the flavors of chicken marsala, so I let that influence how this pie came together.

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Oh man! We only just finished eating this pie and I already kind of want more. It’s creamy and peppery and a little sweet from a hit of sherry to the filling. Jeff requested a biscuit crust, about which I was openly skeptical, but the end result was pretty perfect. It’s not a flaky crust but it is tender and crumbly and adds a good dimension to the rest of the pie. Even better, since the crust doesn’t really need to set and you don’t have to worry about using cold butter to create flaky layers, this pie doesn’t take very long to throw together if you have leftover chicken or have picked up a rotisserie for this purpose.

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Looking through the ingredients list, there isn’t anything particularly fancy or complicated about this dish. And that’s kind of the point of comfort food – it tastes familiar. In this case, the finished product is not traditional chicken pot pie, which means I won’t spend the whole meal berating myself that it doesn’t taste like so-and-so’s. Instead, the taste is comfortable but interesting and it doesn’t bring up any comparisons to perhaps better incarnations of this dish, which means more credit for the cook. So if you’re in for a dreary and cold weekend, well, you have your work cut out for you.

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Chicken Mushroom Biscuit Pie

1 lb buttom mushrooms, quartered
2 large onions, chopped
2 lbs cooked chicken, chopped or shredded into bite sized pieces – about one whole chicken
1 tbs plus 3 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
½ cup plus ¼ cup milk
1 ½ tsp cracked black pepper
3 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs sherry

Biscuit Crustadapted from Gourmet Magazine, August 2009
8.4 ounces (about 2 cups) white whole wheat flour^
2/3 cup milk
6 tbs butter
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt

^White whole wheat is different from regular whole wheat flour and is also called whole wheat pastry flour. It is softer than traditional whole wheat but is ground with the bran so it still has the nutty flavor of whole wheat flour without creating brick-like baked goods.

Put a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tbs butter. Once the butter starts to bubble, add the mushrooms and ½ tsp salt and let cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates from the pan. Continue to cook the mushrooms until golden brown on at least one side. Remove them from the pan into a large mixing bowl.

Add the onions to the pan with 1 tsp salt and cook for a few minutes over medium-high heat until they start to brown around the edges. The pan should also still have some brown bits from cooking the mushrooms. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and scrape the pan to release any browning that is stuck. When the onions are lightly golden and most of the brown has been scraped up, scoop out the onions and put them in the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the cooked chicken to the bowl.

Return the pan to medium heat and add 3 tbs of butter to the pan. Once the butter is melted, add 2 tbs of flour and whisk them together to create a roux. Cook the roux for a few minutes to get rid of any floury taste and then slowly add the milk, a few tablespoons at a time. Add a small amount of milk and whisk it into the roux before adding more. Once you’ve added about ½ cup of milk, stop and cook the mixture for a few minutes to thicken it. If you want more sauce or the sauce is too thick, add up to another ¼ cup of milk, again adding and whisking a few tablespoons at a time. Once the sauce has thickened slightly, turn the heat down to low and add 1 ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Taste for salt and add up to 1 tsp kosher salt if needed. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. You can at this point refrigerate the filling for a few days.

Turn the heat off on the pan and add the chicken, mushroom, onion mixture. Stir to coat and taste for seasoning – add salt here if needed. Stir in 1 tbs sherry (or another sweet wine like Marsala or Shaoxing).*

To make the crust, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and incorporate it into the dough using your fingers so that it ends up evenly distributed into the flour but remains in pea-size or larger pieces. Add the milk and stir to combine but do no overstir. Once the mixture forms a dough with all the flour. Divide it into two pieces and refrigerate for about 15 minutes – this is a very sticky dough so refrigeration makes it easier to work with later. While the dough is cooling, grease a pie pan.

Once you are ready to roll out the dough, preheat your oven to 400F. Flour your counter or cutting board and roll out one half of the dough until it is large enough to fit into your pie pan; it will end up about a 1/8 inch thick. Arrange the crust in the pie pan and spoon the filling on top** Roll out the second half of the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick and lay it gently on top of the filling. It’s a somewhat delicate crust so it will likely crack while you are trying to move it – don’t worry about that. Just press the cracks back together on the bottom crust and leave them on the top as air vents. Press the edges of the dough together to seal the pie and cut off any remaining edges.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown spots appear on top and around the edges. Let the pie cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. You can also make it ahead and reheat it at 350F for 15-20 minutes when you are ready to eat.

* Since the alcohol is added after the heat is off, it will not cook off as effectively in the oven as it would on the stove top. If this worries you, you can add it to the sauce with the heat on, before you add the chicken/mushroom/onions, but if you don’t the final product will not be or taste alcoholic.

** The longer the filling cools, the better the final pie and the easier it will be to work with when putting it in the crust.

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