Humble Pot Pie

January 17, 2012

Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.
~Laurence Sterne

Pot pies seem reminiscent of a graceful courtship—first ogling, then the primal eye connect, doted upon, coddled, kneaded some, cozied, with disparate souls melded together, finally forming a union, ever mingling with ambrosial aromas and flavors. An almost silent, sapid tango.

Recently, home spun and hearty pot pies have gone somewhat underground in America’s home kitchens. A revival is in the making though. Nearly timeless, savory meat pastries have endured civilizations, castes, and continents. With slightly differing carriages, there are French (pâté en croûtes), English (meat pies), Spanish (empanadas), Chinese (jiaozi), Greek (kreatopitas), Italian (tortas), Slavic (böreks), Polish (pierogi), Russian (belyashi), Canadian (tourtières), Latin American (empanadas), Vietnamese (bánh patê sô) Indian (samosa), middle Eastern (fatayer), and so on. Each deserve our ardor.

Early English pies (“coffyns”) were savory meat pies with tall, slightly beveled pastries and sealed floors and lids. The bottom crust served as the pan, so it was rather tough and inedible. These pastries were often made several inches thick to withstand the rigors of baking.

The English word “pie” was later derived from the cagey magpie, a keenly sociable bird that forages for and collects sundry objects which adorn and bind together their bulky mud or manure nests. Medieval pies were similarly bowl-shaped, holding an array of fillings, whether savor or sweet and often both meats and fruits.

“Pot” took a more circuitous route—from late Old English pott and Old French pot, both from a general Low Germanic and Romanic word from the vulgar Latin pottus, of uncertain origin, said to be vaguely connected to potus “drinking cup.” Pot pie had more specific origins: American 1823. (All not to be confused with cannabis sativa or pot which is probably a shortened form of Mexican Spanish potiguaya or “marijuana leaves.”)


Preheat oven to 375 F

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
12 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 T lard or shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water, mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Equally divide and form into two evenly sized thick disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Remove from the fridge. If the dough is too firm to roll, allow to rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and the rolling pin. Lightly dust the top of a disk of flour and roll into a round about 1/8″ thick. Roll outward from the center, rotating the dough, and adding flour as necessary to avoid sticking. Fold the dough in half and transfer to a 9″ pie plate easing the dough into the corners and up the sides.

Roll out the second dough disk to a 12″ round, again about 1/8″ thick. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate until ready for further use.

3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
3 C whole milk, slightly simmered

1/4 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Remove the roux from the heat, pour in the warmed milk and whisk vigorously until smooth. Then add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and simmer gently, whisking often for 30-40 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme.

1 C red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 C parsnips, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C carrots, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C celery, cut 1/2″ diagonally
12 white pearl onions
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C crimini mushrooms, cut into thirds
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
2 1/2 C roasted dark chicken meat, shredded

2 eggs, beaten

Put the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, celery and onions in a large saucepan with water to cover with bay leaves, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes.

In a chinois, drain the vegetables, discard the bay and thyme, cut the onions in half and spread on an edged baking sheet. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Strew the simmered vegetables, peas, mushrooms and chicken over the bottom of the pie shell. Season again with salt and pepper. Pour the béchamel over the chicken and vegetables. Moisten the pie shell rim with some of the beaten egg. Carefully cover the filling with the top crust and press the edges of the dough together to seal. Trim away any excess dough that overhangs the rim. Brush the top crust with the egg. Cut three small vents in the center of the top dough with the tip of a paring knife.

Bake until the crust is a rich golden brown, about 50 minutes or more. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, then serve.

Pourboire: consider lamb shoulder or shredded pork butt.

Sauce Béchamel

November 25, 2009

Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French cookery.

One of the mother sauces (sauces mères). Some claim that Catherine de Medici’s skilled Tuscan cooks imported Béchamel to France from Italy in the 16th century. Others assert that the father of French haute cuisine, chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne created this sauce during King Louis XIV’s reign. It has been fairly firmly speculated that the sauce was named after a courtier, Louis de Béchameil, marquis de Nointel who was maître d’hôtel (major domo) of that same sun king, Louis Roi—perhaps Europe’s longest ruling monarch (1643-1715).

Crème, Mornay, and Soubise are compound sauces derived from Béchamel as a base.

Clarified butter means the milk solids and water have been removed from the butter. Use unsalted butter and melt it slowly in a saucepan over low heat without stirring. Let the heated butter sit still so that the milk solids and water separate from the butter fat. Skim the foam from the surface. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid (the clarified butter) into a container, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the saucepan.

Béchamel can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.


5 T clarified butter
5 T flour

3 C whole milk, brought to a simmer in advance

1/2 C veal or chicken stock
2 T yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of nutmeg
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, add the clarified butter and the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Then add the stock, onions, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper and simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through a cheesecloth.

Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.
~Auguste Escoffier

It is about time to hop on the Julie & Julia bandwagon. Whatever your take on Julie Powell or your perspective on the film, it is a staunch reminder that Julia Child should be accorded the respect and homage she deserves as a revered grande dame of home cuisine. She profoundly changed the fabric of the American kitchen and introduced us to the utter grace and simplicity of French cooking. It seems only fitting to offer a post on sauces mères which includes two of her most adored, Hollandaise and Bernaise.

(One of life’s small, but nagging, regrets: one Monday several years ago, I was reading the Santa Barbara News Press and learned that the day before Julia and Jacques Pépin attended a gathering at the art museum which was appeared to be open to the public. I was staying just down the street, and somehow the event had eluded my radar. Damn.)

A mother sauce or sauce grande serves as a base sauce to use in making other variations on the original theme. There are five classic sauces mères from which all other major sauces derive:

Espagnole or Brown sauce (demi-glace) is brown stock-based, and includes sauces such as Bordelaise, Chasseur, Chateaubriand.

Velouté sauce is based on white stock and roux, and includes sauces such as Allemande, Ravigote, Suprème, and White Bordelaise.

Béchamel sauce is made with milk and pale roux, and includes sauces such as Crème, Mornay and Soubise.

Tomat or red sauce is tomato based, and includes sauces such as Marinara.

Hollandaise sauce is emulsified, and includes sauces such as Mayonnaise and Bearnaise.

Sauce is a French term which descends from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” In ancient Rome, sauces were used to disguise flavors—possibly to conceal doubtful freshness. A defining characteristic of classic cuisine, French sauces date back to the Middle Ages.

Originally four in number, the basic mother sauces were initially classified in the 19th century by the father of French “grande cuisine,” Antonin Carême: Sauce Tomat, Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole. Then in the 20th century, master chef Auguste Escoffier added the fifth and final mother sauce, Hollandaise, with its derivatives covering almost all forms of classical emulsion sauces including Mayonnaise (see Mayonaisse, 03.03.09).

Warmed egg yolks with the tang of lemon juice whisked with butter to make a thick, yellow cream. The classic sauce that dresses eggs Benedict, tangy and velvety Hollandaise is equally delectable spooned over asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, poultry or even with sandwiches. Bearnaise, with its characteristic piquant flavors of wine vinegar and tarragon, pairs well with steak, flatfish, shellfish, artichokes, and poached eggs too.


10 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, melted and clarified

3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
2 T unsalted butter, chilled, divided equally and cut into small pieces

Sea salt and white pepper

Clarify the butter. Place butter pieces into a saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, skim off the foam and strain the clear yellowish liquid into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the bottom of the pan. (The residue can be used for soups or sauces later.)

In a heavy saucepan, vigorously whisk egg yolks for a minute or so until they are slightly thickened and pale yellow. Beat the lemon juice and salt into the eggs and then add 1 tablespoon of the chilled butter and pinch of salt.

Place the pan over low heat or simmering water and whisk further until the egg mixture becomes smooth, creamy, and even thicker. This should take 1-2 minutes and you should see the bottom of the pan between strokes. Promptly remove from heat and beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter which should cause the eggs to cease cooking.

Slowly dribble in the melted butter, rapidly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter in larger driblets. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Serve at once or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Take care, because if kept too warm, the sauce will turn—the egg yolks will begin to curdle and the butter will separate.

Pourboire: Should the sauce turn or fail to thicken, spoon out a tablespoon or so into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens, then gradually whisk in small spoonfuls of sauce, allowing the mixture to cream and thicken before adding the next.


1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a small saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.