Chicken Pot Pie, but like a good one

Chicken pot pie, but like a good one, is a labor of love. If you’re going to make it, go all out and make a whole mess of little ones so you can pop some in the freezer. This is a pretty fool-proof method, thanks to chicken thighs which are ridiculously difficult to overcook and the genius of Smitten Kitchen, who discovered you can apply Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon thickening technique to chicken pot pie. Don’t skip the things that make this recipe lighter and brighter than your Grandma’s chicken pot pie: leeks, lemon zest, white pepper and just a kiss of sour creme fraiche. You’ll notice there’s also only one Tablespoon of butter. That’s because there’s already plenty of chicken fat in the cooking liquid to emulsify with the flour and make a creamy, thick sauce for the filling. Use whatever vegetables you like or have on hand, just make sure you chop them into 1/2” pieces so they cook quickly.

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Spring Chicken Pot Pie
-yields 8-12 small pies, depending on your ramekin size

3 to 3.5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 cups homemade vegetable stock
1/4 cup creme fraiche
zest of two small lemons (I used meyer)
about 8 white peppercorns, ground up with a mortar and pestle
1/4 cup AP flour
1T unsalted butter
4 to 5 cups 1/2” pieces of vegetables
your favorite pie dough or puff pastry (a double crust recipe is safest)
one large egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon or so filtered water

Do ahead: make and roll out dough until it is 1/8” thick. Cut out circles large enough that each one will have roughly 1/2” overhang. Pop everything on a cookie sheet and let it sit in the fridge.

1. Pat chicken thighs dry and generously salt them. Place them skin-side down in a large, cold skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook untouched, until the fat has rendered from the skin and it is golden brown. You’ll know it’s ready because it won’t stick. You may have to work in batches. Just turn the heat off of the skillet for 5-10 minutes before adding the second round of chicken to the skillet- don’t rinse it out!
2. Place seared chicken on a plate and add leeks + shallot to the pan. Cook over medium heat with a pinch of salt until soft and just starting to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock.
3. Return chicken to the pan and bring everything to a simmer. If any scum rises to the top, skim it off with a slotted spoon.
4. Mix creme fraiche with white pepper and whisk in spoonfuls of warm stock until it looks like milk. Pour that into the skillet with lemon zest. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
5. Remove the cooked chicken and pull meat off, reserving the skin and bones for later. Preheat oven to 375.
6. In a small bowl, mash butter and flour. Start adding the fat from the top of the cooking liquid into it, one spoonful at a time, then add a little liquid. Whisk it together until it looks like cream, then whisk it back into the liquid in the skillet.
7. Return chicken meat to the skillet along with any vegetables that take a while to cook- in my case carrots and yellow potatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add quick cooking vegetables like asparagus and English peas. Taste to see if it needs more salt or white pepper.
8. Spoon filling into ramekins or coquettes and let cool to room temp. Quickly top them with pie dough, smearing it down along the sides. Cut a vent in the center and glaze with egg yolk. Bake for 30 minutes or until they turn glossy, golden brown.