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News / Life / Clark County Life

Let creativity be your guide when making widely beloved potpie

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 2, 2022, 6:04am
4 Photos
Pick-a-Mix Potpie uses a premade pastry crust and basic pantry staples to produce a potpie, pronto.
Pick-a-Mix Potpie uses a premade pastry crust and basic pantry staples to produce a potpie, pronto. (Photos by Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

There’s not too many people out there who don’t love a potpie. At least, I have never met anyone who could resist the combination of buttery pastry and savory filling, usually with chunks of chicken, carrots, potatoes, peas and mushrooms — and sometimes those delectable little pearl onions — in a creamy sauce. As my friend Carly said, “There were very few things in my childhood as exciting as a potpie in the oven.”

One day last week I was staring in the fridge, wondering what to do for dinner. We were smack dab in the middle of that in-between time when we’ve used up a good deal of the food from our last shopping trip but our reserves weren’t so depleted that I needed to run to the store immediately. I consider this the optimum time for inventing new recipes or, as I like to call it, playing with my food.

Here’s what I had: one sheet of frozen puff pastry from a box of two (I’d used the other pastry sheet in my disastrous attempt at Apple Pan Dowdy), half a pound of ground turkey, half a bag of frozen peas, an onion, carrots, a parsnip, a slightly withered potato and some leftover mushroom chicken from Panda Express. From the pantry, I pulled a can of mushrooms and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

In my big cast-iron skillet, I browned the turkey with olive oil, garlic and salt, then added a whole diced onion. Next, I cubed the parsnip and one large carrot and tossed them into the pan along with the one past-its-prime potato. I looked at the takeout mushroom chicken and wondered if I was crazy to add that. Maybe, but it had so many plump mushrooms and zucchini and even a few broccoli florets, and more vegetables can’t be bad. Into the skillet it went, chopped into small pieces, along with its salty sauce.

Everything was sizzling nicely and good smells filled the kitchen. The onions were translucent and tender and the carrots, parsnip and potato had begun to soften. I added the can of mushrooms along with a handful of dried and crushed sage leaves. For the creamy sauce, half a can of cream of mushroom soup was perfect. (I put the other half in the fridge and used it the next day to make twice-baked potatoes.) I mixed in about a tablespoon of flour as a thickening agent. No one wants a watery potpie. The world is distressing enough as it is.

The caveat for this puff pastry-topped potpie is that you must take the frozen puff pastry out of the freezer two or three hours before you start working on the filling. Fortunately, I remembered to do that. (There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.) Once it’s thawed, it’s very easy to work with, pliable and stretchy. It comes in a square but it was a cinch to stretch it into a round-ish shape, folding the corners over and tucking the edges down around the filling, forming a complete seal. I used a fork to poke eight or 10 vent-holes in the pastry and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes.

The advantage to this potpie is that the filling was already completely cooked when it went in the oven, so the only thing I needed was for the pastry top to puff up and turn a light golden brown. I checked it once after about 25 minutes, at which point I think we could have eaten it, but I wanted to see a little more color on top so I returned it to the oven for another 10 or 15 minutes. (I wish I could give you exact times, but my experiments tend to be a little loosey-goosey in this regard. Just cook it until the pastry is well-puffed and a peachy blush has appeared on the top, but not until it’s black and smoking.)

The potpie was delicious. I’ve tried to make short-crust potpies in the past, but they all turned out awful and took so long to cook that I finally gave up. They’re not worth the trouble on a busy weeknight. This pie, however, is a different story. It uses simple ingredients that can vary based on what you have on hand. It can incorporate leftovers. And it’s cooked before it ever goes into the oven so it’s done in roughly half the time of a regular potpie. That’s a potpie that bears repeating.

I’d encourage you to use this pie as inspiration for your own variations. Use ground beef or pork instead of turkey, or chunks of steak, lamb or roasted turkey breast (or skip the meat altogether). Change up the vegetables — use yellow squash and zucchini, cauliflower or green beans. Use shallots or leeks instead of onions and sweet potatoes instead of russet or red potatoes. Try cubed butternut squash or even cubed pumpkin. Toss in some pimientos or roasted red peppers. Instead of cream of mushroom soup, use cream of chicken soup or cheddar cheese soup. Basically, use what you’ve got and make it differently every time, or experiment with various combinations until you find one that knocks your socks off. It’s hard to go wrong with so many delicious things simmered together under a flaky crust. See how much fun it is to play with your food?