Why It Works
- Whole wheat flour helps the bottom crust stay crisp, despite the high liquid content of the filling.
- 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.
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 my individual double-crust chicken pot pies or try my buttermilk biscuit topping.
Making the Pie Dough
A chicken pot pie topped with a crisp and flaky double crust is time-consuming, but it's as elegant as it is rich, befitting a special occasion. That beauty is more than a surface treatment, as my whole wheat pie crust will bake up flaky and crisp even along the bottom. That's due to the whole wheat flour, which also gives the crust a heartiness that can stand up to the meaty filling.
The only way to keep that layered dough flaky and light is to cool the filling until it's no warmer than 50°F (10°C). The process can be sped along by cooling it in an ice bath, or spreading it into a large baking dish to increase its surface area before chilling it in the fridge. Or, you can turn the cooling process into a make-ahead asset, since the filling can be prepared and refrigerated a day or two in advance. (As can the dough, which needs to be rolled and relaxed about two hours before use.)
Once the dough and filling have been prepared, assembly is fairly simple. Line your baking dishes with a layer of dough, fill each to the top, and top with another piece of pastry, trimmed to size. (Here, I'm using six two-cup ramekins.) Crimp the edges with a fork to seal the top and bottom crusts together, then brush with an egg wash.
If you're feeling fancy, the dough for the top crust can also be cut into thin strips and woven, following the steps in my lattice tutorial.
If you're topping with a solid sheet of pastry, cut a few vents in the crust to help steam escape—it won't have any trouble slipping out of a lattice on its own.
Place the pot pies on a half sheet pan, and bake at 400°F (200°C) until the filling is bubbling-hot and the crust is golden brown, about 75 minutes. This is considerably longer than it takes to make the biscuit-topped pot pie, but the cold filling and extended bake time are absolutely vital to getting the crust crispy along the bottom and sides.
The filling will be at a boil when the pot pies come out of the oven, so do give them a chance to cool. Aside from being dangerously hot, the filling will be fairly runny when it's above 200°F (93°C), so letting it cool will give it a chance to thicken up as well. That's why I don't recommend baking chicken pot pie in a pie pan, as the filling won't be thick enough for clean slices until it's just about lukewarm.
Regardless of how it's topped, this secret pastry is one of my favorite comfort foods once the weather turns cool, and easily customized with whatever vegetables and seasonings you love best.
For the Crust:
Additional whole wheat flour, for dusting
For the Chicken:
2 quarts (1.9L) homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken stock
4 1/2 pounds (2kg) 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 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
For the Filling:
1/2 ounce unflavored 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 Egg Wash (optional):
1 large egg, straight from the fridge
1/2 ounce heavy cream (1 tablespoon; 15ml)
1/8 teaspoon (0.5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
For Crust: Prepare a double batch of flaky, tender, and nutty whole wheat pie crust as directed. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a thin sheet, around 3/16 inch thick, using as much flour as needed to prevent sticking along the way. Transfer pieces to a half sheet pan, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 48 hours before using.
For 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 (about 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 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. Transfer to a large but shallow container, such as a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, to increase the surface area and speed cooling. Refrigerate, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until no warmer than 50°F (10°C), about 1 hour. 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.
To Assemble: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). With a sharp knife, cut 1 sheet of chilled dough into 6 roughly equal squares. Nestle each one into the bottom of a 2-cup-capacity oven-safe dish. Cut 6 "lids" from remaining sheet of pastry with a sharp knife, using an overturned 2-cup baking dish as your guide; alternatively, cut with an appropriately large cookie cutter. Set pastry lids aside and use scraps to patch gaps in coverage along the bottom crusts, all the way to the top edge of each dish.
Divide filling evenly between dishes, about 1 1/2 cups each (12 ounces; 340g), although the exact amount will vary with the specific amount of vegetables and chicken used. Top each dish with a pastry lid and gently crimp the edges with a fork to seal pastry to bottom crust.
For Egg Wash (if using): Whisk egg, cream, and salt in a small bowl. Brush over top crust of each pie in a thin, even layer. This will give the crust a glossy golden sheen.
Transfer dishes to a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling-hot, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving, allowing 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.
Rolling pin, two half sheet pans, 5-quart stainless steel pot, digital thermometer, fine-mesh strainer, whisk, flexible spatula, 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
The filling can be covered and refrigerated up to three days, or frozen in an airtight container for three months. Covered in foil, leftovers can be refrigerated up to three days and reheated to serve.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 71g||91%|
|Saturated Fat 30g||148%|
|Total Carbohydrate 120g||44%|
|Dietary Fiber 7g||25%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 21mg||103%|
|*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.|