Monday, February 20, 2017

Chicken potpie chez Huang

Chicken potpie is one of those iconic British American foods that just about everyone loves. 

I for one cannot figure out why it’s not made well with honest ingredients as a matter of course and then offered in restaurants everywhere. 

Chicken potpie shouldn't be such a rare bird that I get super excited when I find it on the menu and the waitress tells me in all seriousness that I really, really, really need to order it. But even those few places that do manage to serve it rarely go the extra mile and turn out something exceptional. I’ve never quite figured that one out. I mean, a potpie super easy to make, the ingredients are cheap, it smacks of the best home cooking, and it’s incredibly tasty when done right. 

Decorations on top
For many people there is a whole lot of nostalgia wrapped around the mere concept of a potpie, and I would have liked to be one of those lucky few, but in my childhood a couple boxes of Swanson's frozen potpies was the most my overworked mother could ever muster. However, over the years I learned to make a really good version (always with thigh meat, never with the breast, please) that tossed in potatoes, peas, and carrots to make this a balanced meal with no excuses. 

I was reading Anthony Bourdain’s excellent new cookbook, Appetites, when I came across his recipe for chicken potpie. It reminded me that I hadn’t made this in a very long time. He offered some great ideas in there that really got my imagination going and my appetite roaring, like baking the pie halfway before coating the top with a beaten egg, which gives the crust time to bake into a beautiful golden crust. 

Frozen dough: my secret weapon
His potpie recipe – like everything else I’ve tried in this book – was a delicious take on a classic dish. Around my house, though, we tend to like more Chinese ingredients in there, two crusts, and lots and lots of vegetables to lend layers of texture and colors to the filling.

I’m also a bit of a lazybones when it comes to pies like this. Frozen pie dough makes this dish incredibly easy, as does a box of good chicken stock. You can, of course, make the whole thing from scratch, but when I get a jones for a potpie, I want to eat it now, so a trip to Trader Joe’s is generally all I need to assemble most of the main ingredients, and then all I have to do is fall back on my Chinese pantry for the rest.

Make pie for dinner. Your people will love you for it.

Sunday dinner special
Chicken pot pie chez Huang
Huángjiā sūpí jī pài 黃家酥皮雞派
Serves 6 to 8

4 large dried black mushrooms plus 1 large dried puffball mushroom, or 6 large dried black mushrooms
Water, as needed
1 package (about 22 ounces / 625 g) frozen pie dough, defrosted and brought to room temperature, or make enough pie dough from scratch for a two-crust pie
1 quart (1 L) lightly salted or unsalted chicken stock
2-inch (5-cm) piece of fresh ginger
2 boneless chicken thighs
2 medium red sweet potatoes
¾ cup (180 g) frozen green soybeans (maodou or edamame), or frozen baby peas
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
About 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
Puffball & black mushrooms
1 packed cup (70 g) chopped Chinese celery, or regular celery plus some parsley
3 green onions, trimmed and chopped
Spray oil
1 medium or large egg, lightly beaten

1. If you are thinking ahead to tomorrow night’s dinner, soak the dried mushrooms in cool tap water overnight. If you’re doing this at the last minute, pour boiling water over the mushrooms. When they are plumped up, remove the stems from the black mushrooms and cut both types of mushrooms into ½ inch (1 cm) dice. Strain the soaking water and keep it for later. Make sure to defrost the pie crust completely before starting to work, and then allow it to come to room temperature, which will help prevent it from cracking and crumbling, as the whole point of using frozen pastry is keeping the work to a minimum, right?
Bubbling onions & garlic

2. Heat your oven to 400°F (200°C) and set the rack in the lower third of the oven. Pour the stock and the mushroom soaking liquid into a wide pan, add the ginger, and bring it to a boil. Add the chicken and simmer for around 15 minutes, or until you can poke a chopstick easily through the thickest part of the meat. Remove the chicken to a work bowl, cool to room temperature, and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) dice. 

3. Cut the sweet potatoes into ½ inch (1 cm) dice and then add them to the stock. Simmer these for around 10 minutes, or until they are just cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the potatoes before adding them to the chicken. Add the soybeans to the stock to barely heat them through (these are already cooked, remember), and then use the slotted spoon to add them to the bowl, too. Discard the ginger. Measure out 2 cups of the stock and use the rest for something else.

4. Cut the onion into ½ inch (1 cm) dice and finely chop the garlic. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and then add the onion and garlic. Simmer these over medium-low heat until the onions are barely browned. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, stir to form a bubbly, smooth lava, and then stir in the reserved stock. Add all of the rice wine and then the soy sauce a teaspoon at a time until it is as salty as you like. (The stock and soy sauce will vary wildly in saltiness.) Pour the onions and gravy into the bowl with the chicken and add the celery and green onions. Taste again and adjust the seasoning as needed. 
The glorious filling
4. Spray a 10-inch (25-cm) deep-dish pie pan or skillet with oil. Roll out one of the crusts so that it is large enough to fit in the pan and come all the way up the sides. Scrape the filling into the crust, and then roll out the other crust so that it is large enough to cover the top with about a 1-inch (2.5-cm) border. Set it on top of the pie before crimping the edges of the pie. Make slashes on the top as you like, and if you have any leftover piecrust, cut it into decorations for the top of the pie and then simply arrange them on the top crust.

5. Set the pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie for about 15 minutes. Brush the top of the pie all over with the egg and then return it to the oven for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is a lovely golden brown. Cool the pie for about 5 to 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges. Serve hot.