In times of distress, bringing people together at the table can be a way to alleviate the oppressive nature of what's happening in our world. I know many who find solace in the simple act of baking bread from scratch or letting a stock simmer to its full potential. These past weeks have been full of loss and grieving, touching many in my own circle of family and friends. This week, in particular, I find myself turning to the stove even more for warmth and nourishment, offering comfort food in all its forms. I've had requests for everything from homemade mashed potatoes with local spuds from the Valley to a classic pie. Since we can't always eat pie for dinner — some of you are asking, why not? — here's a savory comfort food dish that bakes up in a big skillet.
The local markets are bursting with sweet Alaska carrots and potatoes, parsnips and pumpkins, but for ease of preparation, supplement with good-quality frozen veg, such as pearl onions and green peas, and use store-bought rotisserie chicken. I like to take the meat off the bones and use the carcass to make a quick stock. This lightened-up version uses chicken or vegetable stock but you can make it a bit richer by replacing half the liquid with heavy cream. See variations below.
As for the topping, I sometimes make homemade biscuits, but here is a quicker version with store-bought puff pastry. If you want to make individual servings, cut the pastry into six to eight portions to top into individual ramekins. To make-ahead, prepare the filling one day ahead, keep covered in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before topping with pastry. Bake until golden and bubbling.
Easy skillet chicken pot pie
Makes 6 servings
1 whole store-bought rotisserie chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion (about 1 1/2 cups diced yellow or white onion)
1 large carrot (about 3/4 cup)
1 small parsnip or turnip (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (see note) or vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 (10-ounce bag) frozen green peas or shelled edamame
Ground cayenne pepper or hot sauce, to taste
1 half package (17.3-ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
Egg wash: 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Optional toppings: fresh chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese
Remove chicken meat from the bones; set meat aside and place carcass with skin in a large pot and cover with 6 cups water. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and any vegetables scraps you have — such as parsley, celery, carrot, garlic and onion. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-high and let cook at a gentle boil (at least 20 minutes) while making the pot pie.
In a large (10-12-inch) cast-iron skillet (or other heavy-bottom ovenproof pan) melt butter; add onion, carrot and parsnip and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over and stir constantly, 2 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups warm chicken stock and bring to a low boil; simmer over low heat until thick, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, stir. Add another half cup stock and let thicken over medium-high heat. Add Italian seasoning, garlic and peas; stir in cooked chicken. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and some ground cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce, to taste. If too thick, add up to another 1/2 cup stock.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out one of the puff pastry streets on a lightly floured surface to the shape of your skillet, or cut pastry into various shapes. Place crust over the filling and tuck in any overhanging edges. Brush the top with egg wash. Using a sharp knife point, cut a few slits all over the pastry. Place skillet on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 20 to 25 minutes to allow pastry to cook all the way through. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
• Go totally vegetarian with vegetable stock or coconut milk in place of chicken stock and include a variety of your favorite vegetables and herbs in place of chicken.
• Make it richer by adding half cream or whole milk and half chicken stock.
• Cut the pastry into stars or other shapes using a cutter instead of one whole sheet.
• Top with biscuits or a short pastry crust instead of puff pastry.
• Replace chicken with raw fish.