Friday, January 27, 2012

Lemon Chicken and Fennel Pot Pies

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Pot pies are wonderful winter comfort food that got a bad rap back in the 1970s with the advent of those frozen pot-pies-in-a-box with little peas and carrots.  OK, time for a confession - I ate a ton of those frozen pot pies in my college days (along with Hamburger Helper minus the hamburger) because they were the cheapest food I could find. ($.79 each)  Bleh. 

Homemade pot pies are an entirely different thing.  This is one of my absolute favorite pot pie recipes and it only takes about 60 minutes to prepare before baking.  The good news is that they freeze beautifully so you can make some on a weekend and have them ready any night of the week.  Have you noticed that upscale comfort foods like pot pies are all the rage at restaurants these days?  You'll be very trendy. I served pot pies at a dinner party once and dressed them up with a cloth napkin underneath (kind of the like picture below, come to think of it) and some fresh herbs tucked in to the napkin folds.  Looked kind of fancy if I do say so myself. 

No little peas and carrots in this recipe - it has moist chunks of chicken, savory fennel, tender green beans, prosciutto, and a lemony sauce. The reason why the chicken stays so moist is because it's gently simmered in chicken broth rather than using a dry cooking method. The fennel is also cooked in chicken broth and imparts a subtle flavor that goes amazingly well with the chicken and lemon. This recipe is lighter in calories than a typical pot pie but sacrifices nothing in terms of taste or...comfortivity.

Of course you could make this recipe as one large pot pie in a quiche pan or pie pan but then you lose the benefits of being able to freeze some for later.  Plus it's not nearly as cute to serve.  :-)  Individual ramekins are readily available in kitchen stores and stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Crate and Barrel, or even Target.  They're not expensive and they're available in different sizes.  For this recipe I used 1-1/4 cup ramekins which make a nice-sized dinner with a salad.  If you have big eaters in your house (aka teenaged boys) you might want to get the next size larger which is typically a 2 cup ramekin.

I also chose to use a refrigerated pie crust.  I've made pie crusts from scratch and really can't tell the difference.  If you have deeply held beliefs regarding homemade pie crusts don't let me stop you!  I even hesitated to bring the subject up at all.

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Lemon Chicken and Fennel Pot Pies
Makes 6 individual pot pies or one large pot pie

Your favorite recipe to make 2 pie crusts - or - two refrigerated pie crusts
2 fennel bulbs
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 ¾ - 2 lbs), cut into 1” cubes
½ cup green beans, cut into 1” pieces
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups 2% milk
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
½ teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
Black pepper
¼ lb thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin 2” long strips
1 egg white, lightly beaten

6 (1-1/4 cup) ramekins or 1 deep dish pie pan

Prepare pie crust recipe (if using) and refrigerate dough.

To prepare filling: blanch green beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then remove and immediate submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

Cut leaves and stalks from fennel. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and remove the triangular core with a small sharp knife. Cut each half lengthwise again to make four fennel quarters per bulb. Slice thinly crosswise.

Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the fennel and cook uncovered for 7 minutes. Add chicken and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes more. Remove and strain the chicken and fennel. Discard the broth.

Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and continue to whisk until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add chicken, fennel, green beans, lemon juice, fennel seeds, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and prosciutto. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Let cool slightly before filling ramekins so the filling won’t start to melt the dough when it’s placed on top.

Roll out the dough (if using) or pie crusts to roughly rectangular shapes and use the bottom of a small plate to make circular indentations approximately 1-2” larger than the diameter of your ramekins. Cut the circles out using a small knife and place on top of the filled ramekins. (Alternately roll out one large pie crust as usual if using a deep dish pie pan.) Fold the extra dough up and in to form a decorative edge. Cut a 1 ½” slit in the top of each to serve as a vent.

At this point the pot pies can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day, or wrapped and frozen. If frozen, thaw overnight before baking.

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375d. Brush each crust lightly with egg white and bake until pastry is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

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