Synchronicity. Sometimes, it all comes together in life in the strangest ways…and leads from cannabalism in 19th century London to a tasty spontaneous dinner in the Midwest. Unless you are interested in musical theater, or have a deep and abiding interest in my personal history, you may want to skip down to the recipe. Don’t say I didn’t warn you….
I love musicals, and I love Sondheim most of all. Nearly 30 years ago, during my first week of college, I sat entranced in a practice room as my new friend Bob Ingari played and sang “Johanna” from a brand new musical called “Sweeney Todd.” It was haunting, and beautiful, and (as is often the case with Sondheim) far more interesting than the Surry with the Fringe on Top, or that Enchanted Evening business. I eventually got to see “Sweeney Todd” on the stage, bought the record (yes, the record) and put in the “good” pile near “A Little Night Music” and “Evita,” and far away from Boy George and Gary Neumann.
By the time the movie came out last year, I was too busy to make it to the theater. Our Netflix pile is growing dusty as it is, and I’d honestly just forgotten about the whole thing until yesterday. Sam was home sick, and he asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with him. He picked “Sweeney Todd,” and because I am a totally negligent parent I agreed to let him watch the throat-cutting and live-burning so that I could ogle Johnny Depp and hear Sondheim. (Note to employees of protective services agencies: he appears to be unscathed). As we watched, I kept thinking about the meat pies, and about the fact that we had nothing firm planned for dinner. (Note to horrified readers: I was thinking about this in connection with the meat pies towards the beginning of the movie that are made of, well, regular meat. Not the other ones).
We had the following odds and ends in the house: 2 bone-in chicken breasts, 1 surplus pie crust from a quiche making day earlier in the week, about a cup of peas left over from making Topopo salad, and carrots for Sam’s lunch. It seemed likely that I could construct some sort of pot pie from all of this, with the addition of various hosehold staples (shallots, milk, flour), but there was a problem: I have always, always hated pot pies. I believe it stems from my childhood abhorrence of un-flavored white sauce; I hated Tuna Noodle Casserole, Chicken a la King, Creamed Chipped Beef…and pot pies. I do, however, like things with flavored white sauce like Macaroni and Cheese and Turkey Tetrazzini, I didn’t want cheesy pot pie (literally or figuratively) but I figured that a splash of the dry sherry that made the white sauce palatable to me in Tetrazzini might also work in the context of pot pie. We paused the movie mid-murder, I put the chicken breasts on to poach, and eventually this is what I made:
The Best Chicken Pot Pie in Lansing
(A title which is immodest, but related to my “Sweeney Todd” Theme)
- About 2 cups of cooked, cubed, white meat chicken (I poached mine, but this would be a great way to use up left over cooked chicken or turkey)
- 1 single purchased or homemade pie crust (although you could certainly add a top crust – I just don’t like crust that much)
- 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 large carrots peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into thin half-moons
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 cups milk or low-fat half & half (I used the latter, which made the filling very rich)
- splash of dry sherry
- salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place pie crust in pie tin or 8-inch round baking pan with excess crust draped over outer edge.
In a large, shallow pan, heat oil over medium high heat; cook carrots and onions, stirring often, until they are tender (about 10 minutes). Add flour, salt and pepper and cook about 3 more minutes. Gradually add milk or half & half and stir constantly until sauce thickens, mashing out any flour lumps.
Turn off heat under pan and add peas, chicken and sherry, stirring to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Pour mixture into crust and fold edges up and in to form free-form edge. Bake for about 25 minutes, until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbling.