Why It Works
- Lightly poached chicken intensifies the meatiness of the stock, while remaining juicier and more tender after baking than leftover roast chicken.
- Cold-poaching bone-in chicken in stock, along with vegetables and aromatics, creates an even more concentrated base.
- Gelatin adds body to the filling without the excessive richness of cream.
- A blond roux thickens and flavors the filling.
- Pimentos provide a splash of color and a hint of smoky sweetness.
- Worcestershire sauce adds savory depth.
- Tangy buttermilk drop biscuits offer contrasting texture and flavor.
When it comes to making dinner, by virtue of my dessert-oriented profession, I gravitate toward what I like to call "secret pastries"—savory meals that ultimately hinge on making a fantastic dough. It's a category that includes dishes such as ravioli, quiche, empanadas, and pizza, as well as my personal favorite: chicken pot pie.
Of course, no matter how amazing the pastry, all the time and effort that go into chicken pot pie will be wasted if you start with a mediocre filling. You know the sort: loaded with overcooked chicken swimming in a watery sauce.
How to Get the Filling Right
Fortunately, the same steps that ensure the chicken stays tender and juicy will also guarantee a super-flavorful filling. It's as simple as giving up on pot pie as a vehicle for leftovers. Sure, we all remember how fantastic that roast chicken was the night before, but if it was perfectly cooked then, it will always be overcooked in a chicken pot pie.
Rather than using leftovers, the ultimate chicken pot pie starts with tender, juicy chunks of chicken that are ever so slightly underdone. Not raw, but around 135°F (57°C), a temperature that ensures the chicken won't be ruined by additional cooking but instead will end up perfectly done when the pie is baked. To do that, I'm fond of Daniel's technique for cold-poached chicken, only I use chicken stock in place of the water in his method. On top of that, I throw in onions, celery, and carrots, along with a small amount of garlic and herbs.
I do this because I end up using the poaching liquid in the pot pie itself, so the more I can reinforce the chicken flavor in each step, the better. In short, I'm making an incredibly intense chicken stock by using chicken stock instead of water, doubling down on the underlying flavor.
Because the stock is reinforced with additional aromatics and meat, it doesn't matter as much whether that chicken stock is store-bought or homemade, so don't hesitate to use whichever makes the most sense to you.
In either case, unless that stock is so collagen-rich that it turns solid in the fridge, it's nice to go ahead and bloom a little gelatin to fortify things down the road. A small amount of gelatin can go a long way in creating a more luxurious mouthfeel in the finished product, without forcing you to use excess flour and other thickeners that can dull the flavor of the sauce.
With the poached chicken and concentrated stock ready to rock and roll, the filling itself is fairly straightforward. I start with equal parts butter and flour by weight to make a light blond roux, which strikes the perfect balance of toasty flavor and just enough thickening power for a sauce that coats each nubbin of food.
When the roux is pale gold, I add a mix of diced onion, celery, and carrots. (Unlike my usual pastries, secret pastries are fairly forgiving of adaptations, so those vegetables can be swapped for whatever you prefer, including shallots, leeks, and even butternut squash.) I keep cooking and stirring until the vegetables have slightly softened, then stir in a splash of dry white wine and the fortified stock. From there, I cook only until the stock begins to bubble.
Off heat, I stir in salt, pepper, thyme, and Worcestershire sauce (as a wee umami bomb) to establish a baseline for the seasoning. It's good to get the seasoning going early, since the flavor of the sauce is harder to judge when it's chock-full of undercooked chicken and frozen peas.
At this stage, the sauce should taste slightly more intense than ideal, as its flavor will be diluted by the volume of ingredients added in the next step: those aforementioned frozen peas, along with diced pimento pepper, the reserved bloomed gelatin, and the poached chicken (shredded or diced into bite-size bits).
Full disclosure: I don't even like pimento on its own, but it does something magical in chicken pot pie, adding a vibrant color and smoky sweetness that make the whole dish pop. If you're not keen on buying a whole jar of the stuff, most fancy supermarkets include pimentos in their salad or olive bar, so you can load up on exactly how much you need, down to the gram.
Choosing the Right Pastry
Once the filling is made, what happens next is a deeply personal affair, a decision that can split families and destroy friendships, or, perhaps, inspire newfound love. I speak, of course, of that long-standing rivalry between Team Biscuit...
...and Team Pie.
Let us cast aside the false dichotomies that divide us! In the realm of secret pastry, we're all on the same team. Besides, the true definition of pot pie (or, as Merriam-Webster would have it, "potpie") says only that it must be covered with pastry, a requirement easily satisfied by any dough. The choice between a pie dough and a biscuit dough is simply a matter of personal preference and available time, as each method requires the filling to be handled in a different way. Continue on for a buttermilk biscuit topping tutorial, or try my individual double-crust chicken pot pies.
Making Drop Biscuits
Drop biscuits are by far the faster and easier option for chicken pot pie, coming together in five minutes flat. They add an undeniable heartiness to the dish, and their fluffiness contrasts brilliantly with the creamy filling below. When they're made with tangy buttermilk, that touch of acidity cuts through the richness of the filling as well. Plus, biscuits can be dolloped over a hot filling, so the whole thing bakes in less time, too.
My drop biscuit method is dead simple: Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together with a bit of sugar. (The sugar doesn't make the biscuits sweet—it helps with browning and provides a subtle counterpoint to the salty filling.) Next, toss in some chunky cubes of butter, smash each one flat, and continue rubbing to create a coarse meal. Stir in some buttermilk, and you're done.
In this recipe, the pH, viscosity, protein composition, and complex flavor of cultured buttermilk play a vital role. With substitutes, like milk mixed with lemon juice or vinegar, the biscuits will spread more, brown less, and lose their fluffy charm. (For more information, check out these side-by-side comparisons of buttermilk substitutes in drop biscuits.) What's more, the sharp taste of acetic or citric acid from the vinegar or lemon juice will give the biscuits a harsh flavor.
Using a spoon or small scoop, dollop the biscuit dough over the filling in tablespoon-size portions. (It doesn't matter if the filling is piled into a two-quart casserole or split among several ramekins; you can divide it up however you prefer and portion the biscuit topping accordingly.)
Transfer the dish(es) to a rimmed half sheet pan and bake at 400°F (200°C) until the filling is bubbling-hot and the biscuits are golden brown—about 45 minutes if the filling was warm when you started, and about 15 minutes longer than that if it was prepared and refrigerated in advance.
If you value the roof of your mouth, let the pot pie rest at least 20 minutes before serving. The filling will be scalding when it comes out of the oven, so don't burn your tongue, and give that sucker a chance to cool. I promise it will still be piping-hot when you dig in.
For the Chicken:
2 quarts (1.9L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
4 1/2 pounds (2kg) assorted bone-in, skin-on chicken legs, thighs, and breasts
1 large onion, diced (about 8 ounces; 2 cups; 225g)
2 large carrots, diced (about 8 ounces; 1 1/3 cups; 225g)
2 large celery ribs, diced (about 5 ounces; 3/4 cup; 140g)
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
For the Filling:
1/2 ounce gelatin (4 1/2 teaspoons; 15g)
1/4 cup (55ml) reserved chicken stock, cooled
4 ounces unsalted butter (8 tablespoons; 115g)
4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon; 115g)
1 medium onion, diced (about 7 ounces; 1 2/3 cups; 200g)
1 large carrot, diced (4 ounces; 3/4 cup; 115g)
1 large celery rib, diced (4 ounces; 3/4 cup; 115g)
1/2 cup (115ml) dry white wine
1 quart (900ml) reserved chicken stock
5 ounces frozen peas (1 heaping cup; 140g)
3 ounces drained and diced pimento peppers (1/2 cup; 85g), or more to taste (see notes)
1 3/4 teaspoons (7g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1/4 ounce fresh thyme leaves (about 1 teaspoon; 7g)
1 teaspoon (5g) freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons (7ml) Worcestershire sauce
28 ounces poached chicken, from above (4 cups, shredded; 795g), or more to taste
For the Biscuit Topping:
9 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal (about 2 cups, spooned; 250g)
1 ounce sugar (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
8 ounces cold unsalted butter (16 tablespoons; 230g), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 ounces cultured lowfat buttermilk or kefir (about 1 cup; 225g), straight from the fridge
For the Chicken: Combine chicken stock, chicken parts, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and bay leaf in a 5-quart stainless steel pot or saucier. Cover and place over medium-high heat until stock registers about 150°F (66°C) on a digital thermometer.
Adjust heat to maintain that temperature, plus or minus 10°F (5-6°C), and cook until thickest part of chicken registers 135°F (57°C), about 1 hour. Remove chicken with tongs, set aside on a rimmed platter, and cover loosely. Strain stock through a mesh sieve into a large bowl, discard solids, and set stock aside to cool.
For the Filling: Combine gelatin and 1/4 cup (55ml) cooled stock in a small bowl and whisk until no lumps remain; set aside. In a 5-quart saucier, melt butter over medium-low heat, then whisk in flour. Stir with a heat-resistant spatula until roux is fragrant and a nutty blond color, about 5 minutes (it's okay to adjust the heat if this seems to be happening too slowly). Stir in diced onion, carrots, and celery and continue cooking and stirring until vegetables are slightly softened, about 7 minutes more.
Add white wine and 1 quart reserved stock, stirring constantly until smooth; remaining stock from poaching can be reserved for another use. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it begins to bubble, remove from heat. Stir in frozen peas, diced pimentos, and prepared gelatin, followed by salt, thyme, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until gelatin has fully melted into sauce and adjust seasonings to taste.
Shred or dice reserved chicken, discarding skin and bones, then stir into filling. If it better suits your schedule, the filling can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen in an airtight container for 3 months. Otherwise, divide filling between 6 individual oven-safe dishes, or add to a 2-quart glass or ceramic baking dish (approximately 7 by 11 inches). Place on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet and set aside.
For Biscuit Topping: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and toss to break up the pieces, then smash each one flat between your fingertips. Continue smashing and rubbing until butter is broken up into small pieces, like cereal flakes. Stir in buttermilk with a flexible spatula, then drop the thick dough in 1-tablespoon portions over prepared filling.
Bake until biscuits are golden brown and filling is bubbling-hot, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on whether filling has been chilled. Cool at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the filling to thicken and reach a safe temperature to enjoy. Covered in foil, leftovers can be refrigerated up to 3 days and reheated to serve.
5-quart stainless steel pot, digital thermometer, whisk, fine-mesh strainer, flexible spatula, half sheet pans, 2-quart glass or ceramic baking dish or six 2-cup baking dishes or other large, oven-safe dishes
If you can't find them alongside jars of pickles and olives at the store, look for pimento peppers at the supermarket salad bar.
Make Ahead and Storage
Filling can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen in an airtight container for 3 months. Covered in foil, leftovers can be refrigerated up to 3 days and reheated to serve.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 54g||69%|
|Saturated Fat 31g||154%|
|Total Carbohydrate 71g||26%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||17%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 21mg||104%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|