Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Long History with Chicken















My mother grew up during the depression on a dairy farm in rural New Hampshire, and her family has a long history with chicken. Every morning my mother accompanied my grandmother to the hen house to collect the eggs and feed the hens. As a child I remember doing the same with my aunts and then “candling” and packaging the eggs before going on the milk route with my grandfather. Many years later my uncles raised chickens, renewing this long association. Several times a year my mother and father would travel from Vermont to the New Hampshire farm of my mother’s childhood to help cull the birds, returning with a cooler full of delicious organic chickens.

A few years later at the B&B where my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary was being celebrated, the family who owned the B&B was experiencing a crisis--a pet chicken with a broken leg and a $200 vet bill. My Aunt Bea’s response to the pet crisis was, “I can fix this problem for 30 cents!” (The going price for a chick.) That very same week, another family in my parent’s community experienced a pet chicken crisis when a dog attacked and killed Bock Bock, the pet chicken of the young boy next door. In retaliation, the boy’s father shot and killed the dog. This incident was the lead story in the local paper and spawned a controversy that became the source of unlimited headaches for the Animal Control Officer, who just happened to be my father!

Present time (and a number of years later), DH and I were visiting my cousin Cole (Aunt Bea’s daughter) over her Spring break. The weather was positively terrible, prompting me to ask Cole if there was anything in particular she was interested in learning how to cook. Well, there was this one dish Aunt T (my mother) used to make. What was it? I don’t remember. Can you describe it? Hmmmm, she dropped biscuits onto it while it was baking. That could only be one dish, chicken pot pie. And, we were back to chicken!

Before anything could be decided, Cole and I needed to talk chicken. There were several ways we could prepare chicken for use in the pie. One would be to buy chicken breasts and poach them, another would to bake assorted pieces for dinner and prepare extra; or we could roast a chicken. Any of these would work, but nothing compared to the flavor and moistness of chicken roasted on the bone. We talked about the how’s and why’s for a few minutes, and went with roasting. We moved onto finalizing our menus for the next few days, compiled the shopping list, and headed to the A&P for a power shop.

To prepare the roast chicken, we logged onto this blog and followed the recipe for Roast Chicken--click here for recipe, which was absolutely delicious. Then, we stripped the remaining meat off the carcass. The carcass we placed in a large pot and followed my recipe for making stock, which we would use for the pot pie’s gravy.

The meat we set aside for use in the pot pie. Any leftover stock Cole would freeze and use for soup. As it turned out, Cole had been wanting to learn how to make stock for a while. Throughout our time cooking together, we worked on a variety of skills and techniques, which made our stay a comprehensive and on-going cooking lesson. I hope Cole enjoyed herself, ‘cause I sure did!

Notes for this recipe: This is a crowd-sized recipe, but can be scaled down. Due to its rich flavor and firm texture, the potato of choice for this recipe is Yukon Gold. Commercial chicken stock can be substituted for the home made stock.


We prepared the vegetables for the pot pie ahead of time and added the scrapings and scraps to the stock pot for additional flavor. The stock was used to make the gravy.


Aunt T’s Chicken Pot Pie

10 medium carrots peeled and sliced

6 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes diced (do not peel)

4 stalks celery, plus inner stalks with leaves, sliced

1/2 of a red pepper seeded and chopped

1 small green pepper seeded and chopped

1 medium onion peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

3 to 4 cups cubed cooked chicken

¼ finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Gravy (click for link)

Corn Meal Biscuits (recipe below)

Select a deep heat-proof 9x13 inch baking dish and set aside.

Put the carrots in a small sauce pan, cover with water, add 1 tsp. kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until just tender. Immediately drain water into simmering stock pot. Set carrots aside. Place the potatoes in a small sauce pan, cover with water, add 1 tsp. kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until just tender. Add potatoes to carrots and set aside. Drain water off into simmering stock pot.

While the carrots and potatoes are cooking, sauté the vegetables. Place a large frying pan on the stove, turn burner to medium, add 2 tbsp. of olive oil, and swirl to cover the bottom. When oil is just hot add the celery, red pepper, onion and bay leaf. Saute just until the onion is translucent. Stir in the drained potatoes and carrots, cubed chicken and parsley. Mix to combine and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and scrape into the 9x13 inch baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350.

Prepare the gravy, seasoning to taste, and pour over the chicken and vegetables covering to within ¼ inch of top of the pan. Put the pot pie into the preheated oven. Bake for 20 minutes.



Prepare the biscuits.

Corn Meal Drop Biscuits

1 c. flour

1 c. corn meal

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Pepper

¼ c. unsalted butter

1 c. milk

Measure the flour, corn meal, salt, and a good grind of pepper into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter. When the butter has been thoroughly cut in, pour in the milk. Stir with a fork until well combined. Place to the side.

Remove the pot pie from the oven. Using two large spoons, drop the biscuit batter evenly over the surface of the pot pie making 12 biscuits -- 3 across and 4 down. Do not crowd the biscuits, as they will expand during baking. Put the pot pie back into the oven. (Place the dish on a baking sheet if you are concerned about drips.) Bake for another 30 to 45 minutes until the pie is bubbling in the center and the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through.

Serve the dish at the table. Serve a biscuit with each portion. Sit back and wait for the compliments.

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