Pot Pie Recipe

Several readers have writing in asking: how big should a pot pie be? The answer: what’s your total volume of leftovers? That will determine your form as much as anything. I’ll say right now that his will probably be the most informal recipe I’ve ever written. It will be nothing more than a proportional formula, one you can tailor as needed, in the tradition of the world’s finest grannies. Since a classic pot pie is made with chicken, I’ll use a béchamel sauce for my binder. Others are certainly acceptable, but béchamel has the virtue of being extremely easy to prepare.

Let’s start off with the assumption you’ve got about 2 cups shredded chicken. To that you’ll add about 3-4 cups of chopped, cooked vegetables: a mixture of peas, carrots, potatoes, celery, pearl onions, mushrooms, what have you, diced to whatever size you like. Cooked leftovers are great if you have them. If you don’t you’ll want to soften them in a little butter over medium heat. Onions take the longest so start those first and after they’ve cooked 2-3 minutes add the potatoes, carrots or celery. Cook those until softened, 5-12 minutes depending on the size of your dice. Mushrooms only need a couple of minutes, so if you’re using them, add them last. Frozen peas don’t need to be cooked.



Reader Glenn asks if I’m sure that the original pot pies weren’t made with a biscuit topping instead of a regular pie crust, as his traditional family recipe calls for biscuit dough on top.

First let me clarify for all those non-Americans out there that Glenn means a savory American-style biscuit dough, not a sweet cookie-like dough. Actually Glenn, I’m not certain at all. It seems no one knows for sure where the first topping for a modern pot pie came from, much less what form it took. Home cooks use all sorts of doughs to top their pies: short crust, puff pastry, biscuit, even filo dough. In other words, whatever’s handy.


American vs. British “Hot Water” Pie Crust


Reader L wants to know, since we’re talking pie, what the difference is between a standard American pie crust and a British “hot water”-style pie crust of the type usually used for pork pies. Thank you for that, L! You can think of it this way: an American pie crust is primarily designed to be eaten. It’s rich, flaky and tender, easy on the teeth and the taste buds, but something of a weakling. If it didn’t have a pie plate top support it, it would collapse in a heap.


Pot Pie: Getting Literal With Stew

Pot pie isn’t really pie at all, it’s stew. “Potpie” was just the name stew went by in some quarters of the English-speaking world, until somebody somewhere (possibly in Pennsylvania) decided to take the term literally and plop a top crust on it. That most likely occurred sometime in the 20th Century. Prior to that point “potpie” was nothing more than meat and vegetables cooked up in a pot. Frequently chicken or rabbit, less commonly beef.


What’s so great about cast iron anyway?

Lorraine, you ask my kind of questions. I thank you. There are a lot of possible answers here, the main one being that cast iron is good for lots of things. You can pan fry, pan roast, deep fry, simmer, stew, boil and bake in it. It goes from stove top to oven with no problem and can be heated WAY past the point where other pans will literally start to lose their composure. Cast iron doesn’t warp. If you drop it the only damage will be to your floor. Or possibly your foot.

So cast iron does a lot of jobs. It also has some unique properties. Cast iron pans are made of pig iron, a very cheap, crude and dense material. The pig iron is melted, poured into a sand mold, then basically just brushed off and sold. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Alessi.


Old Cast Iron, New Cast Iron

Reader Lara asks if it’s true that old cast iron pans are better than new ones. I think the answer is that old cast iron is marginally better. Why? Because pans made before about the 1960’s were polished after they were cast. That gave the surfaces a much smoother finish than the unpolished cast iron pans you find in hardware stores today. The cooking surfaces on new pans are more uneven and pitted as manufacturers have abandoned the expensive polishing step.


You’re wrong, Joe!

So writes Anna.

My grandmother was a mountain woman from West Virginia who never, ever washed her pans. She swore that soap ruined the surfaces of her pans and I grew up learning never to question grandma. If she said it, it was true.

Anna, far be it from me to question received wisdom. However I’ll ask that you consider one or two things. First, having lived in Kentucky for ten years I’ve learned that one reason most mountain people didn’t wash their pans was because it was a long traipse from the hilltop down to the creek to fetch water for a wash-up. Not something people with a full belly wanted to do after dinner.


Can you wash cast iron pans?


So asks reader Cindy. Cindy, the short answer is: yes. Oh yes I know that the cast iron cognoscenti claim that a properly seasoned cast iron pan can’t be allowed within a yard of a bottle of dish soap, but the fact is that a well-seasoned pan can absolutely tolerate a washing with soap. So enough with the home-fashioned scrubbers made of kosher salt and lemon halves, go ahead and break out the Palmolive.