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Not your mother's chicken pot pie. Not frozen, either.

Except for the rare occasions when I would order it in a restaurant, the only chicken pot pie I’ve ever known was my mother’s. It was of the variety found in the freezer case at the supermarket. Mom was an excellent cook and a wonderful baker, but she rarely attempted pastry pie crusts, which is why, I suspect, she never made a chicken pot pie from scratch.

I inherited my mother’s cooking and baking genes. Unfortunately, another dominant trait is the trepidation gene, the one that kicks in when faced with the prospect of a pastry crust. Now look: I can whip up a graham cracker crust that’ll knock your socks off. (Someday I’ll share my recipe for peanut butter pie.) But I’ve always found the act of rolling out pastry dough and trying to fit it neatly in a pie pan as intimidating as trying to drive a stick shift. I’ve determined that I have a sort of spatial dyslexia. I also invariably cut off way too much gift paper when I’m wrapping presents. So… to make me feel better about myself when I think about these shortcomings, I resort to comfort food. Ironically, the one comfort food I’ve craved the most and haven’t been able to satisfy has been chicken pot pie. Until, that is, I met the Casserole Queens at an author signing at Richmond’s Fountain Books.

Crystal Cook, left, and Sandy Pollock: The Casserole Queens

You’ll recall that I shared their recipe for sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving. And I promised to return with their chicken pot pie recipe. Luckily, I roasted two chickens the other week, so I just happened to have the main ingredient for this on hand.

I was also ready to face my fears.

I needn’t have worried. This recipe replaces homemade crust with a sheet of frozen puff pastry. (One and one-half or so sheets, if the brand you’re using is too small for a 9×13 dish. And of course you’ll thaw them first.) While it could be said that I’m still repeating a pattern begun in my mother’s kitchen, I justify this cheat by reminding myself of all the other from-scratch aspects of this recipe. I then feel positively awash in culinary nobility.

This recipe, incidentally, is the one that caught the eye of Bobby Flay; he featured  Crystal and Sandy on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, his Food Network show. Surprisingly, they didn’t win.

They did as far as John and I are concerned. We loved every morsel. The recipe made enough for us to enjoy leftovers for several days and still share a serving with our neighbor. If you have a crowd coming over for the holidays, this ought to keep them satisfied.

World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie

—Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (3-pound) roasted chicken, boned and shredded
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups fresh peas, blanched*
1-1/2 cups carrots, diced and blanched
2 russet potatoes, diced and blanched
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed**
Egg wash (lightly whisk together 1 whole egg and 1 teaspoon water)

* I used frozen peas and they were perfectly wonderful. I did take the time, however, to blanch the carrots and the potatoes (separately). Took some extra time, but it was worth it to preserve their distinct flavors.

**Depending on the brand you use, you might need more than 1 sheet. I did.

1. Preheat the oven to 425oF.

2. In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the chicken, bell pepper, and shallots, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, salt,
tarragon, and black pepper. Add the milk and cream, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, peas, carrots, and potatoes and stir until heated thoroughly, about 5 minutes.

3. Transfer the hot chicken mixture to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish. Place the puff pastry over the top of the casserole dish. Brush the edges of the puff pastry with the egg wash and press against the side of the casserole dish, then cut slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the puff pastry with egg wash—this will help the puff pastry brown evenly. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Copyright © 2011 by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

— Photos by Marci Rich for The Midlife Second Wife