Colonial Chicken Pot Pie With Buttermilk Biscuit Crust

Time 3 hours
Yields Serves 12 to 16
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The words “pot pie” on a menu appeal to the traditionalist in all of us, evoking images of Grandma’s apron and the steamy comfort of a warm kitchen. So what if the pie turns out to be like nothing Grandma ever dreamed of?

In Dana Point, at the luxurious new St. Regis at Monarch Beach Hotel’s Aqua restaurant, Chris L’Hommedieu makes pot pie stuffed with chunks of lobster and baby vegetables lightly bound in a cream sauce. It is served tableside, the waiter carefully lifting off the crust intact and spooning out the filling.

At the House, Scooter Kanfer’s spunky little place on Melrose, there’s no pastry lid at all. There’s no meat, either. Even the fairly traditional pot pie Patrick Healy makes at Buffalo Club in Santa Monica is based on a homemade chicken stock reduced to a glaze and spiked with wild mushrooms.

Clearly, this humble dish has been dressed up in ways Grandma never imagined. Yet all three chefs credit their grandmothers with their first pot pie experience.

Kanfer says her New Yorker grandma called her dish pot pie, even though it was made with a mashed potato topping, which purists might consider more of a shepherd’s pie.

“I grew up in a Hungarian Jewish home in Queens, and I was one of those weird kids who didn’t even have store-bought bread until I went to boarding school, because my nana made a loaf of fresh bread every morning,” she says. “For her pie, she would take a little leftover goulash and put a layer of mashed potatoes on top of that and bake it. I loved that. To me, that’s the ultimate comfort food.”

L’Hommedieu ate pot pies at his grandma’s table in New England. “I remember she used to bake them in an oval casserole dish. She’d boil the chicken up in the morning, then flake it into the pot with carrots, potatoes and creamed peas. Then she’d bake it in the oven with a flaky pie dough. A lot of things I do in the restaurant, I picked up from her.”

Grandma might not recognize the tableside lobster preparation, but she’d still feel safe ordering it, L’Hommedieu says. “I think that’s the one dish on the menu that, if one of my family members came in, that’s what I’d send them. I come from a pretty humble background, and most of my family doesn’t have much experience in this kind of restaurant. But this dish touches on the comfort zone for most people while still being pretty sophisticated.”

Healy’s family was very sophisticated about food. His grandmother was a high-society cooking teacher in Palm Beach, Fla., and counted Julia Child and her sister Dort among her students, as well as Jackie Kennedy.

“My grandmother used to do a pot pie with pheasant,” he says. “At home she used a puff pastry crust and served it in a beautiful old earthenware dish. She did things very French. That was my first chicken pot pie and still probably one of the best pot pies I’ve ever had.”

You can rail about the evils of meddling with tradition if you want, but in reality, these modern improvisations are perfectly in keeping with the historical spirit of the dish.

There is no single definition of a pot pie, and there never has been one. Meat pies go back to time immemorial. As long as food has been written about, there seems to have been some kind of main dish being served in a crust somewhere. In fact, until the 17th century, nearly all pies were filled with meat.

In early America, with its colonial culinary roots in England, the meat pie was particularly important. In Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery,” published in 1796 and credited as this country’s first cookbook, she mentions savory pies made of chicken and “stew,” as well as a “sea pie” made with meat and salt pork. Mince pie, today regarded as an antique dessert, actually began as a main dish.

Perhaps because of its ubiquity, the pot pie has resisted uniformity. In addition to having wildly different fillings, there is similar disagreement as to topping. Crusts are made with flaky pie pastry, puff pastry and biscuit dough. In the first edition of “The Joy of Cooking,” the chicken pot pie is topped with a batter, more like what we would consider a dumpling.

Even Kanfer’s seemingly radical topless pie isn’t all that weird. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, pot pie is a chicken stew served with broad noodles. Who knows? Someone may even have made a vegetarian version once.

Even with something as homey as pot pie, careful preparation is required. For the Aqua pie, that starts with exact cooking of the lobster. “All the love goes in before the pie is baked,” says L’Hommedieu. “That’s making the sauce and precooking the lobster.

“Lobster is temperamental. You don’t want it undercooked or overcooked. We precook the lobster before assembling the pot pie. You want a three-minute lobster. You want to cook the tail and the claws so you can get all the meat out.

“You also want to make sure all the vegetables are tender but not messy. Everybody puts their twists on this recipe. Down here, I have a particular farm I work with for my produce and I want to show that off, so I get baby vegetables and cook them just tender.

“For the sauce, I sweat lobster bodies with a little chopped vegetables, a little white wine, a little brandy and some cream. Cook those for 20 to 30 minutes to infuse the flavors. Some people use roux-based sauce. I don’t like that as much as thickening the sauce with pureed vegetables. You get a natural flavor and it’s as stable as roux is.”

Healy uses a roux for his sauce, but only after a lot of cooking has already gone into it. “The sauce that’s served with this is very rich,” he says. “It’s made from a deep chicken stock reduction that turns into glaze and I add cream to it.”

The chicken has to be cooked just right as well. “I tried serving it with dark meat and with white meat and I found that most people like white meat, though that’s not necessarily my preference. And like any recipe with white meat chicken, there’s a fine line between when it is tender and moist and cooked through and when it starts going to the stew stage, where it will be dry, and you’ll have to keep cooking it until it is falling-off-the-bone tender. Always cut a little piece off and give it a taste test. That’s the way we do it in the restaurant.”

The biscuit dough, which he prefers as a topping because of the way its hearty texture matches the sauce, has to be handled lightly, too, or it will become tough. It’s much better made the same day it’s baked, Healy says. “You get a much better rise. It’s lively and light.”

Kanfer’s pot pies aren’t so much an example of perfecting technique as of rethinking the form. They are whimsical and change with the seasons. First, there’s some kind of roasted vegetable container--anything from a winter squash or spring onion to a summer tomato. Then she puts in a protein base--lentils or grain to keep the dish vegetarian. On top of that goes a mix of seasonal vegetables--some blanched, some roasted, some grilled, for a variety of flavors and textures--bound with a vegetable puree.

“I call it a pot pie because it comes in a vessel,” she says. “I think it’s fun to give people something a little familiar, then give them a twist on it.”


Biscuit crust


Place the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and butter in the bowl of a mixer and mix on low speed until it reaches a sand-like texture.


Add the buttermilk slowly while mixing. Do not overwork. Form into 2 disks and refrigerate for 1 hour.


Flour a flat surface and roll out each disk 1/2 inch thick. Trim the dough about 1/2 inch larger than each of 2 (2-quart) casserole dishes that are 2 inches deep. Place each piece of dough on a baking sheet or floured board and poke holes across the top using a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

This recipe by Buffalo Club’s Patrick Healy makes enough pot pie for a crowd. If you’re serving a smaller group, it can be cut in half.



Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes without browning before adding the chicken backs or wings, carrots, onion, celery, leek, thyme, bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes before removing the carrots. Set the carrots aside, covered. Cook the stock for 30 more minutes. When the carrots have cooled slightly, cut them into small uniform pieces and set aside.


Add the chicken breasts to the pot and cook at a low simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the breasts, cover and set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and set the meat aside.


Meanwhile, strain the stock into another pot and discard all of the solid ingredients. Boil the stock at high heat until it is reduced to a syrupy glaze, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the cream and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.


Melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter and mix in the flour. Whisk the roux into the cream mixture with a whisk and continue stirring while cooking over medium heat, 10 minutes. Strain the sauce into a blender container.


Blend the sauce until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to come to room temperature



Soak the dried mushrooms in cold water for 2 to 3 hours, then rinse several times, changing the water each time until the water remains clear.


While the mushrooms soak, plunge the asparagus into boiling salted water and cook at a full boil until bright green and crisp-tender, 4 minutes. Remove the asparagus, saving the water, and shock in ice water until cold, 1 minute. Drain and set aside.


Trim the stem side of the beans, leaving the curly pointed tip intact. Cut the beans in half and cook them in the same boiling water used for asparagus until bright green and crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and plunge the beans into ice water for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.


Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Add the sugar then the corn. Boil the corn until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. You can pull an ear out of the water, cut off a kernel or two, and taste for tenderness. Remove the corn, saving the water, and set aside until the corn is cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels off the cob and set aside, covered.


Plunge the onions into the same boiling water and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and let cool. Cut away the knob and slide the outside skin off the onion. Set aside.



Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the Filling, mushrooms, chives and the Sauce and divide between the baking dishes. Lay the Biscuit Crust on top of the filling and sprinkle lightly with flour (this gives the crust a more rustic look).


Bake until the crust is golden brown and the pies are cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes.