how to make pot pie without a recipe
Pretty bold statement, I know. Lately I find myself with lots of leftovers, or only an hour to make dinner, or both situations at once. I wanted to solve the puzzle of how to avoid eating pulled pork sliders for the third day in a row, and what to do with one random potato. I have made pot pies before, but they were the stuff of nightmares: grey clouds of liquid with lost pieces of vegetables, always too dry, or super soggy. I know that there are personal preferences for this dish, and mine rest in just the right proportion of vegetables and liquid, which is enriched with butter, wine, and broth.
With this in mind, I wanted a master recipe where I could deviate in the meat selection available (or lack thereof), and vegetables used at my discrepancy. Working on the proportions resulted in some rather large dishes, some very dry ones, and a particular dinner that yielded no takers even among the most courageous. The final recipe is a simple, forgiving one for whatever you want to use in the mixture.
The most important thing is that you want to have are vegetables, meat or no meat. I really like the mixed bag of carrots, peas, lima beans, green beans, and corn that most stores have in the frozen section. Although I can easily pull together these ingredients, if I am in a hurry, popping these in a pot really cuts down the time I need to spend on dinner, and most importantly, they are reminiscent of the pot pies from my childhood. I like to use fresh vegetables when available: celery is a great example, especially if you want to keep it as a last minute addition for the crunch. Potatoes are another great choice, as they will help things come together, and sweet potatoes are great with pork or chicken. Root vegetables such as sunchokes, turnips, or beets are wonderful and complimentary additions, but take care not to add too many. A fine balance of meat and vegetables is ideal, and even when making a vegetarian version, the ingredients should get along together. Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat, especially a variety, will produce that meaty taste.
Herbs are a great way to transform what may have been fennel crusted pork into thyme scented pork for a pot pie. I enjoy using the basic herbs with pot pies, because they are already on hand, and are familiar flavors. This recipe is about comfort for me, as you can tell. Thyme is great with all meats and vegetables, basil too. I like sage for chicken or turkey, oregano for beef or lamb, and juniper berries for the venison or more game-y meats. Rosemary, crushed red pepper, garlic and onion powders, fennel, and cumin are some other favorites. A slight addition of grated citrus can elevate the dish. Think simple if in a hurry though – fresh chopped parsley or cilantro can be added before transferring to a baking dish.
Meat is great. If you don’t eat meat though, you can always substitute the meat half with more vegetables, this is actually where I would recommend potatoes or turnips, the roots shine through. I offer the meal from last night as an example of what you can pull together in less than 60 minutes, start to finish.
Ingredients (for four servings):Â
two tablespoons olive oil
four tablespoons butter, divided into two tbs. each
one medium sweet potato (I used a purple sweet potato), peeled and cubed (about 1/2 in.)
one shallot, diced
about one tablespoon of dried thyme, use your judgement
about one teaspoon of dried Italian herb mix (mine is from OaktownÂ Spice Shop)
1/4 cup or more of dry white wine
1/2 lb. of mixed vegetables (if frozen, thaw for a few minutes in water)
one tablespoon of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half, warmed if possible
1/2 lb. of meat (mine was pulled pork)
1+ cups of pork broth (or chicken, vegetable, etc.) – you want to have at least two cups on hand, warmed if possible
a few sprigs of chopped parsley
one sheet of puff pastry, thawed (my favorite quick recipe is from here)
one egg, slightly beaten in a ramekin or small container, with a couple of drops of water added to it
1) Turn your oven on to 375 F. Place your olive oil and two tablespoons of butter in a pan, over medium heat, until butter begins to slightly sizzle, then add the cubed potato. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the potato begins to slightly soften and get a golden hue. (If using other roots, or fresh carrots, they would be added along with the potato, as they need more time to cook.) Add the shallot, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the thyme and Italian herb mix, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. The shallots will be translucent by now.
2) Add the dry white wine (or red wine for beef or lamb), and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated. Then add the other vegetables (if making a vegetarian version, then add about one pound of vegetables all at one go now). It’s okay if they are not fully thawed, as you can finish the thawing in the pot at this time. Also, the other two tablespoons of butter need to be added now. Leave the vegetables to get a nice color, about 2-3 minutes, depending if they are thawed or not. Salt.
3) Meanwhile, if not already done, pull your pork apart. This is easier if the meat is slightly warm (but don’t burn yourself). Set the meat aside. Return to the pot, give it a good stir, and add the flour. You want to distribute the flour among all of the vegetables, so keep going until you see it is so, as you don’t want clumps of flour. The butter will help cook some of the flour, so leave the mixture alone for a minute or so, before adding the milk. Once the milk is added, stir (or whisk) away. Taste, and salt if needed.
4) Add the meat, if using. I like to cook the pork in the milk mixture to see how much liquid it will soak up. You can add the broth at this time, or with the milk above. Either way, let the mixture cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Although it may seem like a lot of liquid, this will quickly evaporate once in the oven.
5) Add the chopped parsley, and transfer the meat and vegetables into a baking dish (oval 11 in. worked for me). Stretch out the puff pastry about half to one inch longer than the length of your dish, you want the pastry to create a warm little oven for the meat and vegetables, and let it hang over the sides slightly. Brush the egg mixture over the pastry, getting underneath the pieces hanging from the edge of the dish. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the puff pastry is a rich golden color. Rest a few minutes before serving.