At the very end of my book, Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers: Kitchen Stories from Mary’s Farm, I make reference to a chicken pie that I like to make on cold winter evenings, such as it will be tonight. Ever since, I have been chastened by readers who lamented I did not include the recipe. Today, I am responding to those many requests.
The pie that I make is from a recipe I got many years ago from a woman in Groton, Vermont, who made these pies for their popular town suppers, to raise money for the volunteer fire company. At the time, I wrote about her as a “Great New England Cook.” Having grown up on chicken pot pies, usually frozen, and sometimes, in the summer, bought from a wonderful place called Whimpies, (out on the Cape in Osterville, Massachusetts), I had never had a chicken pie with a biscuit crust. I thought all chicken pies were made like any other pie, chicken and gravy and vegetables tucked between two pastry crusts. Since learning the recipe from the folks in Vermont, I have never even attempted a two-crust chicken pie. This recipe will cure you for all times, if you need conversion. Reading the old recipe as it was printed in Yankee (October, 1985), I see that I have adapted it liberally since then and, of course, this is the pie I make now. If you make it, I beg of you not to try to sidestep the making of the biscuits by buying refrigerated biscuits in a tube. Not that you would! But I thought I would mention that, just in case you thought it might make it easier. Really, I can’t stress enough how simple it is to make a biscuit. I think it’s just that we are out of practice. Like anything else, once you are in the habit, well, you won’t be buying any biscuits from the dairy section of the supermarket. In the time that it would take to go to the grocery store and back, your biscuits will be baked.
1 whole chicken, 3 or 4 pounds
3 onions, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 16-ounce bag of frozen peas (use fresh if it’s the right season)
Place the chicken into a stockpot and cover it with water. Place onions,a few bay leaves, a teaspoon of salt and several peppercorns into the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer gently for about 15 minutes and then turn off the heat and let the covered pot sit until it is cool, about 3 or 4 hours. Remove skin and bone from the chicken and place bite-size pieces or strips of the meat in the bottom of a large casserole dish. With a slotted spoon, drain out the onions and place on top of the chicken. Reserve about a quart of the broth.
Place two tablespoons of butter into a large skillet and when it’s melted, add two tablespoons of flour. Using a wire whisk, stir in a few tablespoons of the broth, making a thick paste. Gradually add the rest of the broth, a bit at a time, whisking all the while. When it’s thickened but still pourable (you don’t want it to be pasty, a smooth liquid gravy is what you are looking for here), pour about half of it over the chicken pieces. Preheat the oven to 425.
This is the recipe I use for all biscuits, biscuits in the morning, biscuits for shortcake, biscuits for ham and cheese sandwiches. But best of all, biscuits for chicken pie. It’s a fairly standard biscuit recipe except for the Kefir which is a cultured milk, sometimes known as the “champagne of milk” because of its tangy zest. It’s a bit like a thin yogurt and helps give the biscuits an extra lift. If I don’t have Kefir on hand, I sometimes mix half yogurt and half milk and the result is fairly similar. Otherwise, buttermilk will do.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar