The Perfect Pot Pie

Most of us only look for pot pies in the freezer section, but it's not that hard to make a homemade version that's much better.

Cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie says pot pies are a great one-dish meal that's easy to make and cozy to eat this time of year.

Ritchie adds that you shouldn't reserve them for family meals: By making them in pretty, individual bowls, pot pies can also be a fun idea for casual dinner parties.

On The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School" Thursday, at the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma, Ritchie gave a quick course in making pot pies.

For the traditional chicken pot pie, buying puff pastry and roasted chicken makes the dish a snap. You can also substitute leftover turkey if you want. The first step is making a roux with flour and butter. You turn it into a "veloute sauce" by adding stock; this is the base for your pot pie. Next, add your vegetables. The key here is to cut them into small, uniform pieces so they cook quickly. Once the veggies are tender, you add the chicken and ladle into individual bowls. Moisten the rims of the bowl so the pastry will adhere to them. Brush the pastry squares with egg, so they will brown beautifully, and press onto the bowl. Cook for about 20 minutes and then you have a delicious dinner!

Shepherd's pie is another type of pot pie that's easy to prepare. Basically, you make a lamb stew, ladle into a pie plate or individual ramekins and cover with mashed potatoes. It's a great use for leftover mashed potatoes! Ritchie suggests mixing some chives into the potatoes for added flavor. Also, you want the potatoes to be warm when you add them. Otherwise, the pie will need to cook for a really long time until heated through.

Williams-Sonoma calls the final recipe in Thursday's lesson "Chile En Croute." That's a fancy name for tamale pies! The recipe calls for making beef chili in a slow-cooker; of course you can make it in the stove as well. Ladle this into bowls and top with cornbread mix. The key here is that you don't want to try to spread the cornbread mixture evenly over the tops of the pies. If you do, you'll wind up pushing it down into the chili, causing it to sink while cooking. Plus, as it cooks, it will spread out some and cover more of the top.


Individual Chicken Pot Pies

Pot pies are an excellent way to use leftover roast chicken. The pot pies come together quickly with this recipe because it calls for store-bought puff pastry. Be sure to choose a good-quality brand that includes real butter, and keep the pastry frozen until ready to use.

8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup peeled and chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped white button mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped red-skinned potatoes
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup cooked fresh or frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Four 6-inch squares frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water

Preheat an oven to 400ºF.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture smells fragrant and nutty, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the stock, whisking until smooth, and bring to a boil. Add the thyme, bay leaf, onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, chicken, peas, salt and pepper and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

Divide the filling among 4 ovenproof bowls and place on a baking sheet. Brush the puff pastry squares with the egg mixture. Brush the rims of the bowls with water. Place 1 pastry square on top of each bowl, pressing lightly on the edges. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.