Friday, January 30, 2015

The Secret to Making Chicken-Pot-Pie Flavored Mush

Sometimes, you plan to make a nice meal and it ends up a big pile of mush.

I wish that was an analogy, or some sort of lame metaphor. But it’s actually a true story.

This past week I was wandering through the grocery store when I found a whole chicken for a pretty good price. I often buy whole chickens and give them my version of Thomas Keller’s roast chicken and vegetables. It’s a simple, sophisticated meal that both kids and parents enjoy.

Yet, for some reason, when I spied this particular chicken, I had a different idea entirely.  I decided this chicken wanted to be … no, needed to be … the star in another dish: Chicken Pot Pie.

When I say Chicken Pot Pie, I’m not talking about a flaky little pie with chicken in it, a la Stouffers or Chicken Run. I’m talking about Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie.

What a proper PA Dutch Chicken
Pot Pie looks like.
Note the lack of mush.
It’s an amazing stew with a savory broth, chunks of chicken and vegetables, and the trademark fluffy, yet firm noodles that remind every descendent of a Pennsylvania Dutch cook of cozy Sunday evenings surrounded family, sitting by a warm fire, and covered with blankets.

Those noodles. Oh, those noodles.

When I go on an extended low-carb kick, I dream of those noodles. Those fluffy clouds in your mouth, that happen to taste like chicken. ... Sorry. Too much? 

For those who don’t know, my mom is part Pennsylvania Dutch and makes a legendary Chicken Pot Pie. I’ve always thought that if I opened a food truck – which I have no immediate plans to do – I’d just sell her pot pie, and I’m sure the food network would broadcast live from our little culinary trailer.

There’s only one problem with the food truck idea and with my more immediate plans for this one well-priced whole chicken I brought home from the store on a recent Wednesday: I don’t know how to make Chicken Pot Pie.

Some of my other siblings have had the good sense to invite mom over specifically for a pot pie tutorial. Apparently, I lack good sense.

My wife and I have my parents over often. Yet despite my self-proclaimed abilities in the kitchen (I could have been a chef if things had worked out differently; or a pro running back, but that’s a different story), I have never learned the fine art of chicken pot pie making.

I know how to make a fair chicken noodle soup, of course, which is a start. And when I called my mom that night – first to invite her over, then, upon being refused, just to ask how to make the dish – she told me the a good broth was the key.

I can do a broth, I said to myself. So I decided, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead … on my pot pie meal plan” -- a quote that surely made the whole endeavor sound more important than it was. But heck, both the meal plan and this story left "good sense" in the dust two paragraphs ago.

Luckily, my sister, who lives nearby and has had the pot pie tutorial, called that same evening to inquire about dinner. Her husband was planning to work late, so her and her kid were looking for some company. The invite was extended.

She brought more potatoes, a pastry roller, and critical knowledge.

We were all set. 

So we thought.

Unfortunately, we made a few miscalculations. The first misstep being the amount of time it takes to make pot pie. There’s a reason Dutchie moms (and progressive Dutchie dads) make pot pie on Sundays. Because the darn thing takes a long time to make. Not to cook, but to make. No self-respecting Pennsylvania Dutch chef would make pot pie on a school night.

I’d started the broth earlier, so that was fine. But the noodles – those damn noodles. It took quite a while to get the noodle dough just right, with the rolling and the cutting and the fussing and the flouring.

Out next miscalculation also had to do with time: that being how long to cook the darn things. Not the broth or the vegetables, but the noodles – again with the noodles.

Once we got the noodle dough right (we thought), we added them one-by-one to the boiling broth, which was brimming deliciously with veggies, chicken and potatoes. 

“Let it go 20 minutes,” we were told over the phone by our remote Pennsylvania Dutch consultant, “or until the potatoes are done.” The potatoes were added right before the noodles, and were therefore a safe barometer of noodle doneness. In theory, anyway.

The only question we had was, do the noodles boil for 20 minutes or just simmer. Cooking potatoes in that time requires a boil, we thought. But we worried the delicate noodles couldn’t withstand the heat for that long.

We chose a full boil.

We should have called and asked yet another question. Damn, we should have asked!

Whenever you look back on something that ends up all wrong, there is usually one fatal error. There can be lots of smaller errors, and pre-errors. But there’s one fatal error. That was ours. We boiled the hell out of those noodles.

In the end our little family, and my sister and her child, gathered around the table to eat my first attempt -- solo or otherwise – at the family favorite: the well-revered, the often-exalted, the rarely-imitated Chicken Pot Pie of the Pennsylvania Dutch variety.

What I served them was a pile of mush.

I guess it's time for that tutorial.


Like the article? Know others who may enjoy reading it? Please share it using the buttons below or to the left. Thank you. 

1 comment:

Larry said...

Food truck - hey you know that movie Chef? I just saw it recently. Anyway, it doesn't sound like you. Sorry the food didn't come out the way you wanted.