Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie
By Dennis Linden
This month’s featured recipe has been a favorite dish of Derek Kataoka since childhood when his mom [aka his father Kenny’s supervisor] used to make two chicken pot pies at a time. Actually, this writer also has similar memories of a regularly scheduled pot pie nights throughout my own upbringing, though the words “frozen” and “foil containers” are also a part of that remembrance! Still, the comfort food goodness of this iconic dish cannot be denied, be it homemade or even store-bought!
"I remember the tantalizing smell of a homemade pie coming out of the oven was almost overwhelming,” Derek recalled. “My mom would always make two pies at once, so we could enjoy one for dinner and still have another for lunches over the next few days. My mom rarely cooked meals that took longer than 20-30 minutes and this recipe is also very simple. Still, though I have prepared it myself, nothing beats the touch of my mom’s home cooking!"
Though Derek’s recipe uses just a few, very basic, fresh ingredients to complement the main chicken component – namely pearl onions, diced carrots and potatoes – this simple combination lends the perfect flavor and texture support when baked in a chicken broth roux and sealed inside a flakey pie crust. While this is a very easy dish to prepare, here are a few tips to make the easy even easier!
Pearl onions look so darned cute…until one tries to peel them by hand. Instead, bring a saucepan of water to a boil, toss in the whole pearls for about three minutes, drain and immediately transfer to an ice water bath. Once cooled, cut off the root end and pop out the onion from its skin by simply squeezing the opposite end of the onion between thumb and forefinger. Easy-peasy…watch for flying onion balls!
Novice cooks take note: As a savory cook by nature, my first reaction is to cringe at any recipe calling for a rolling pin and flour. Still, I persevered and simply followed Derek’s simple and basic directions for the top and bottom crusts – in order, no deviation. Not sure why I get so rattled when it comes to dough; it’s one of the most forgiving ingredients to handle in the kitchen. If the flour mixture starts to look too dry and flakey, just add another tablespoon of water; too wet, add in a little more flour. Also the roll out each crust round doesn’t need to be perfect -- just as long as one large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pie plate; the top crust can be a shade smaller so it just covers over the edge of the pie plate. Trimming is done during the final construction of the pie when all the perceived imperfections can be smoothed out, so chill out! And do-overs are always allowed! If the roll out is getting too uneven / just gather it back into a ball, re-flour the surface and start again. The most frequent mistake of beginner chefs – forgetting to measure out and pre-soften the butter for the dough in advance of starting the prep! Finding yourself with a half-mixed bowl of flour and rock hard butter is not fun! Think ahead.
FYI: Though a form of meat pie has been around since the cookbooks of the ancient Greeks, the Chicken Pot Pie was popularized in the U.S. in the 1950’s during the very early developmental days of a burgeoning frozen food industry, when the technology was still in its infancy. “Morton’s Chicken Pot Pie” was one of the first frozen food products distributed nationally by the now defunct company of the same name. The pie became synonymous with the frozen food industry.
As mentioned, Derek Kataoka is a second-generation Melissa’s family member; father Kenny is also a long-time member of the company’s Procurement Team. Derek came aboard about a year ago after deciding to change his grueling schedule of working as a part-time office assistant at a local middle school while also studying as a full time student as well as coaching a high school basketball team. During this first year with Melissa’s, Derek is being shown the ropes of the business of fresh produce, department by department, as he acquires his “produce legs”. He has done a stint in both Sales and Procurement so far. Though exposed to the produce industry throughout childhood from afar, up close Derek admits to being very surprised at the complexity and dynamics of a business that he used think was just about fruits and vegetables.
"At first I thought coming to work here was going to be with 95% old people, because that's how I remembered it as a kid,” Derek recalled. “My dad would sometimes take me with him on his trips up north to visit growers. All I really knew when I was a kid was that he worked with things that I didn't like to eat! Now I see the depth of the business and realize how everything is a lot more complicated. Plus the people here are so easy to work with and to learn from. The whole experience has given me some unexpected life skills, like the simple confidence I have now in just talking easily with other people. I really enjoy it here and intend to learn all I can about the business."
Outside of the office Derek lets off steam by playing basketball, but says what really gets his blood moving is coaching the freshman basketball team at Nogales High School in La Puente, CA, which he kiddingly describes as the “worst decision of my life”. On the less physical side, he does admit that the words “binge” and “Netflix” have crossed paths in his off hours! Welcome to the Melissa’s family, Dereck. And thanks for the stroll down Chicken Pot Pie memory lane! Everyone should revisit this wonderful dish – easy, quick and delicious!
Chicken Pot Pie
1⅓ cup Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
4 TBS Butter
5-7 TBS Cold Water
1 pie pan, 9-inch
1 cup Assorted Pearl Onions, peeled and halved
1 cup Carrots, diced
1 cup Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes®, diced
1½ lbs. Chicken Breast, boned, diced
2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Flour
To make the crusts: Combine flour and salt. Then add butter small amounts at a time. Mix in water slowly as needed. Mixture will turn out slightly dry. Refrigerate wrapped in plastic storage wrap for approximately 30 minutes. Divide in half and roll out two round crusts large enough to cover a 9-inch pie pan. Use one to line the pan up and over the edge.
To peel pearl onions easily, boil for 3 minutes, transfer to ice water bath; cool and drain, slice off root end and gently pop out onion using thumb and forefinger.
In a large pan sauté the onions in butter until they turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Slowly blend in the flour and cook for 1 minute, then add the chicken broth and continue to simmer until mixture starts to thicken. Mix in chicken, carrots and potatoes until combined.
Transfer chicken mixture to pie pan lined with bottom crust, cover with top crust and pinch crusts together at the edges to seal all around; punch several holes in the top crust with a fork. Beat 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash for brushing on the crust. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until crust has lightly browned.