(NYTIMES) Everyone falls for the homey appeal of chicken potpie. And why not?
The aromatic filling of chicken in gravy, the nicely browned pastry lid, the ritual of piercing the crust: The whole experience is memorable. For most, it is a fond childhood memory – but not necessarily of a homemade treat made by a doting mother.
I mostly recall having chicken potpies when my mother didn’t feel like cooking. We children, fascinated by anything that came from the freezer section of the supermarket, were always thrilled. We each had our own little pie, baked in its own diminutive aluminum foil pan. Even if it was generic, bland chicken stew (and it was) encased in not very distinctive pie dough, it seemed wonderful.
There was something attractive about the pies’ soggy bottoms, a contrast to the crisp tops. For me, the frozen potpie has long since lost its attractiveness, but I confess to sometimes longing for a made-from-scratch version.
Fortunately, in the era of frozen pastry dough, it is not difficult to put together. Rather than create miniature pies, I make them like turnovers or hand pies, folding the dough over the filling, so you can hold them with your fingers. Sometimes they are large, for dinner; sometimes bite-size, with drinks for a party.
To make the job go faster, I use store bought puff pastry, with this caveat: Buy the real stuff, made with butter (read the label).
To make the filling, I roast whole chicken legs, then remove and chop the meat: much simpler than breaking down a whole chicken. Softened onions, a bit of thyme and a splash of chicken broth are required, and a little creme fraiche never hurts. I find mushrooms to be the best vegetable to combine with the chicken, rather than the usual suspects, but frozen peas are an option.
This is an easy project, but you may want to approach it in stages. First, cook the chicken, as long as a day ahead. Make the filling when there is a convenient moment. The actual assembly and baking of the pies takes practically no time or effort. You can even freeze them, unbaked or baked in advance, to finish or reheat them at serving time if you wish.
The result tastes very homemade, and it mostly is. The buttery aroma and flaky crust added by the puff pastry give the humble potpie a certain elegance.
Flaky Chicken Hand Pies
4 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken legs with thighs (about 2 pounds)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced (about 1½ cups)
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
8 ounces brown or white mushrooms, chopped (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth or stock ½ cup creme fraiche
6 scallions, white and green parts only, chopped
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1 sheet (about 10 x 15 inches) frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
2. Remove skin and meat from bones. Chop meat roughly into ½-inch chunks and set aside or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. (If desired, save skin, bones and pan drippings for stock.)
3. Make filling: In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and chopped mushrooms. Season mixture with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium.
4. Cook, stirring, until onions have colored slightly and mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Add broth and cook, stirring, as mixture thickens. Add chicken, turn heat to low and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in creme fraiche, turn off heat, and set aside to cool. Stir in scallions and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured (or parchment-paper-covered) work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out into an approximate 15-inch square. Use the tip of a knife to cut into 9 equal squares. Spoon about ¾ cup chicken mixture into the centre of each piece, then divide any remaining mixture evenly on top, so each has the same amount.
6. Pick up and fold one corner of pastry over the filling to make a triangular pie. Press and pinch both edges together tightly to seal. Divide on the prepared pans.
7. Brush the tops with egg wash and bake until deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.