Really good homemade pot pies from scratch can be daunting, that is why there are so many shortcut recipes out there with mixes, soup cans, and quick crusts. Once in awhile, though, you want something *really* good. Because I have multiple food allergies, eating in restaurants has become impossible for me, so I’m always stepping up my recipes at home to make up for it.
This is not a quick meal to pull together after work or under a time crunch, but it is the perfect recipe to lay out and work on through the day in little projects between other chores. You don’t have to be a skilled cook to do this because it’s foolproof, unless you are prone to burning things, can’t help you there. The end result is a nutritious old world style main dish pie that keeps and reheats beautifully.
Very first thing is put an 8 oz box of cream cheese and a stick of butter into a big mixing bowl and set it aside to soften up a little. Trust me.
I usually start with my mirepoix, an onion-carrot-celery combo that I saute in butter. For this pot pie I used half a white onion, two skinny carrots, and 1 long stalk of celery, all sliced fairly thin, and half stick of butter. I like adding fresh ground pepper, but I don’t add salt here. You will be adding salt and other salty ingredients later. This mirepoix can saute on the stove on med-lo heat while you start on the crust.
Everybody raises a ruckus about having chilled ingredients for your pastry crust or it gets tough and won’t be flaky, pashaw. I used to do the works- ice water, cutting the cold hard butter into the flour… then if you use a blender you have to wash it just for making a crust. Forget all that. Let the cream cheese & butter get a little soft, blend it up with a regular mixer, then add two cups of flour and blend again until it looks like this, little pea-sized balls. Easiest crust you ever made, no ice water, no sweat.
When it looks like that, divide it in half into two quart sized freezer bags, mash them around a little to make a dough, then toss them into the freezer for 15 minutes to get cold while you do other stuff.
Test your mirepoix to see if it’s soft enough for the veggies to break up under gentle pressure with the spoon.
If that was a ‘yes’, next step is to mix 1-2 T. corn starch into one cup of cold milk.
Pour the milk into the sauteeing mirepoix, add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt, and turn the heat up to medium. You’re about to make a fancy bechamel sauce! It’s just your basic cream sauce with veggies in it. You want to bring that up to a bubble without scalding the milk, so never turn the heat higher than medium, and keep stirring. Over the next few minutes it will thicken up and look yummy. As soon as it starts bubbling pay real attention and pull it off the heat before you scorch it, won’t take very long at all.
Woopsie, mine got *real* thick. That’s ok! Just get it off the heat and set it aside to cool, maybe drape a piece of plastic wrap over or put a lid on so it won’t get a skim over the top as it cools. On to the next step. Cut up 1 1/2 – 2 cups of turkey (or chicken or whatever leftovers you have around) and toss in about a cup of shredded cheese. I like to use colby/jack. I know, cheese in a pot pie??? It’s actually really good, punches up a little flavor and helps hold the sauce together after it’s all done. You can experiment with swiss, mozzarella, super sharp cheddar, whatever kind of cheese you enjoy. Set that bowl aside, and it’s ok to nibble out of it because I had you cut up a little too much, because I knew you’d want to nibble. You’re welcome.
I like putting potatoes into my pot pies, so I cut up a large russet for this one. I’ve been taunted for tweeting pictures with my plastic handled ginzu knives, here’s proof I actually have nice knives. I’m really picky. Dice up your potato or parsnips or rutabaga or whatever starchy root veg you like to eat and gently poach in a pan of water until you can just get a fork to go into the cubes without breaking them up. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water until they’ve cooled so they’ll stop cooking, set aside to keep draining.
After your mirepoix bechamel sauce has cooled down a little, pour it into the turkey/cheese bowl and stir it up. Ok, so mine really thickened up…
Not to worry! Splash a little milk in and keep stirring, add more milk a little at a time until you make it a little more creamy. You don’t want it really runny like soup, but you do want it a little wetter than that glob I made. And seriously, *foolproof*. Don’t sweat the small stuff and dump good food out if you think it did it wrong, unless you really did scorch it and it’s yucky now.
I save the cooled potatoes for very last and then gently fold them in. Why? Because just in case you overcook your potatoes, they are less apt to fall apart this way. If they get mushy they’ll break down and you won’t even see them when your pie comes out. I normally add a handful of frozen peas at this point, too, but since I used my frozen peas as an ice pack when I hit my ankle one day, I didn’t have peas. NEVER put frozen veggies that you’ve used as an ice pack back into the freezer, because you’ve set spoilage in motion and there is no going back. After you’ve folded the potatoes (and peas if you have them, some people might even want to put half a drained can of corn in here) into the turkey/sauce mixture, set the bowl aside.
On to the crust! Oh no! You forgot about it in the freezer! It’s rock hard! Ha, not to worry. Maybe next time put it into the fridge. I took it out of the plastic and set it on low/thaw in the microwave for about a minute until it was at least mashable. Unfortunately the edges got oozy, but fortunately that still doesn’t screw up this crust! Seriously, you cannot hurt this crust. Unless you burn it. Notice that I keep reminding you not to burn stuff. That’s basically the first step toward really good cooking. Preheat your oven to 350 and dust your counter or board or whatever a little generously with some flour and roll the dough out a bit. You want it sorta thin because too thick on the bottom equals soggy, but I have a way to fix that, too. Once your dough is rolled out, transfer it to your pie plate and get it all patted down in there, maybe you’ll have to mash it around some more because this isn’t your regular pie crust dough. Have fun with it, right? Just make sure it comes up the edges real good.
Pop that bottom crust into the oven for a few minutes. This is a neat trick so you won’t wind up with a soggy bottom crust. When I pulled mine out it was all poofied up like a bubble, you can see the fork pricks where I poked holes to let that steam back out so it could deflate. Let it cool for a few minutes.
Now you can pour that bowl full of delicious filling you’ve already made into the crust, but be careful! I clearly made more filling than this pie can hold. I made the mistake once of thinking it wouldn’t hurt to just pour the rest in, ~never~ do that. It bubbles over and burns and smokes and your kitchen smells bad. See, I just saved you from that! Set whatever is left over aside to reheat and eat it later like a thick soup or something, because it really is that good.
Roll out the other bag of dough and plop it on top of the pie. Trim it so that it just fits on top like a circle, but don’t worry about sealing the edges. You can’t anyway because you’ve already semi-baked the bottom crust. Besides, you want steam to be able to escape, this works great and you don’t have to slash the top.
You see what I did there? I had some leftover dough and made little cutouts to decorate my pie!
Last step- I love sprinkling shredded parmesan on top of a savory pie crust. As it bakes it develops a pretty color and a slightly crunchy texture, not to mention punches up the flavor some more. Once you’ve done that, put it into the oven and clean up your mess while it bakes. I have no idea how long, I just go by how done the top crust looks, since everything inside the pie is already cooked and only needs to get hot again, so keep an eye on it. (Don’t walk away and forget about it and burn it!)
Because of the cheese in the filling, your bechamel sauce is less apt to run out all over like some pot pies do, and this crust comes out feeling flaky-tender in your mouth no matter what you do to it, as long as you DON’T add ice water, haha. It’s a waterless crust.
I’ve been thinking about experimenting with variations. I haven’t had the time to test these ideas yet, but maybe you are brave enough to jump in and play around.
Savory- adding dashes of herbs like thyme, rosemary, and basil to the filling or crust for an herbed flavor, or sprinkling smoked paprika over the filling before placing the top crust on for a smoky flavor.
Beef- substitute beef broth for the milk in the sauce and add a dash of Wort sauce or 1-2 T of ketchup.
Greek- toss sliced olives and artichokes into the turkey/sauce mixture and sprinkle with fennel, would a dash of dill work?
Italian- add a scant tsp of minced garlic into the mirepoix just as it’s getting soft (garlic burns if cooked too long) and fold half a cup of ground parmesan into the cooling bechamel sauce. Season the turkey/cheese mixture with oregano and basil just before you stir in the sauce.
Seafood/gumbo- substitute your favorite seafood(s) for the turkey, fold a handful of cooked okra and rice into the sauce mixture, add a little cayenne or blacken seasoning. I have no idea if this will work at all, but I bet somewhere in world history someone has been eating this all along.
Mexican- Reduce the amount of celery and carrot in the mirepoix and replace it with your favorite chopped peppers, replace the milk in the sauce with enchilada sauce (mix the cornstarch with a little water first and then mix into the enchilada sauce), add a dash of cumin and maybe a little chili powder to the filling mixture along with a handful of canned pinto beans and/or spanish rice and maybe a little frozen or canned corn, use taco cheese in the filling and on top of the crust, serve with sour cream, guacamole, and maybe fresh cut tomatoes.
Chinese- Add sprouts, mushrooms, baby corn, and/or water chestnuts to the mirepoix, then add a scant tsp of ground or minced ginger and 1-2 T soy sauce to the nearly cooked mirepoix , mix the cornstarch in a cup of water instead of milk, perhaps a tsp of 5 spice and maybe a few drops of dark sesame oil. Totally guessing here.
I bet some of you reading this have more experience and better ideas and I wouldn’t be at all put out if you were to let us know in comments what your suggestions are.