Wine With . . . Chicken Pot Pies
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Our recipe for chicken pot pies actually veers off the path of all-American classic comfort food and heads across the ocean to team up with the French version, Bouchées à la Reine, resulting in a dish that is both elegant and comforting. The standard filling for a Yankee pot pie is a hearty amalgam of chicken and vegetables (usually carrots and peas) bound together with a sturdy Béchamel sauce. One of our vintage cookbooks, Good Maine Food (published 1939), even has a recipe for a chicken and clam pot pie. We haven’t tried that one yet, but with hardboiled eggs and diced potatoes (no peas and carrots) included in with the clams and chicken it sounds surprisingly good.
Bouchées à la Reine are individual tartlets made with puff pastry, They used to require plenty of time and a measure of skill to produce. But with excellent pre-made pastry shells now widely available, this is an easy-to-prepare dish that also lends itself to the convenience of being made ahead of time and assembled a few minutes before serving. Of course there is nothing to prevent you from starting from scratch and rolling out your own dough, whether flaky puff pastry or a standard pie crust. You could also make one large pie (in France this is known as a Vol au Vent) rather than individual tarts. The tartlets make an impressive first course--a good beginning for an elegant dinner party--or a soothing, warming main one. You certainly can play around with the ingredients, unless you’re want to stick to classic Bouchées à la Reine, the recipe for which which uses only chicken, truffles and (sometimes) sweetbreads. Going the pot pie route leaves the culinary possibilities wide open to add (and subtract) ingredients. Sliced, cooked mushrooms make a particularly savory addition, as do things such as diced turnips, asparagus, bell pepper, and corn. Clams, anyone?
Chicken Pot Pies
You can use leftover chicken or poached or roasted chicken breasts. We usually poach a whole chicken in a white wine-seasoned water bath, which gives us flavorful chicken and stock, plus plenty of leftovers for a future meal of chicken salad, tacos. or soup. If you are restricting your fat intake, the cream can be eliminated, although the dish will be less rich and will lose some of its character.
You can make the chicken filling entirely ahead of time, popping the tart shells into the oven about 20 minutes before serving.
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion or one leek, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth (we use the stock leftover from poaching the chicken)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
1 cup frozen peas
In a medium-large pot melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, over medium heat until soft. Whisk in the flour, cook for a minute or two, then whisk in the chicken broth. Continue whisking for several moments, until the sauce has begun to thicken up. Stir in the cream and season to taste. Add the chicken and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add the peas and cook another 5-8 minutes. (May be made ahead to this point.)
About 25 minutes before serving bake the tart shells according to package directions. Heap the chicken mixture into the baked shells and top each with the pastry “hat.”
Serves 6 as a first course, 2 as a main course.
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The wines that showed best with this dish did not much surprise us. Our pot pies were quite rich and filling, but with their white, cream sauce and flaky puff pastry, they also partnered better with white wines than with reds. The whites, though, needed to be pretty substantial. A zesty South African Chenin Blanc, for instance, tasted yummy on its own but vapid with the dish. So too with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. By contrast, weightier whites held up just fine. As you’ll see from our recommendations, so too did a rosé—for much the same reason. We are recommending one red wine, if only because we know that some readers insist on that color when opening a bottle. If you do go that route, though, be sure to choose one that’s soft and sumptuous rather than bold and brawny.