November 8, 2016 | Frank Bonanno
At the beginning of the month, I came home to something from a Norman Rockwell painting. Jacqueline, still in heels from work, apron, pearls, the works–cooking pot pie. This was a vision of Rockwell firmly rooted in this century, though, with our sons nearby, plugged in and studying, Twenty One Pilots blasting, and a box of wine on the counter (yes, boxed, it was a Monday). Jacqueline was working on a chicken pot pie recipe she picked up from the New York Times by Julia Moskin. How great is that? I mean, chicken pot pie? Temperatures are finally dipping, and to me pot pie speaks of comfort on every level. Maybe the deliciousness comes from that first taste of childhood independence: being allowed to heat an oven, sticking a round iceberg inside and setting a timer, peeling foil back to unevenly cooked crust and dangerously bubbly peas, and I could eat the whole meal right out of the pan. Alone. In front of the tv!
Here now was pot pie in with the home of my adulthood, full of warmth and music and aroma, and thanks to the Times. The sauce in Moskin’s iteration was deeply flavorful, but in the article she disparages those seventies cream sauces, and in that I disagree. Yes, that blistering canned pea and white sauce falls well short by today’s standards, but a nicely executed bechamel–so easy, so flavorful–is a classic. They’re called mother sauces for good reason. They’re timeless. Simple. They work with modern cuisine in the same ways they worked for our grandparents and their grandparents–because you can spin them a multitude of ways, flavor them to lean toward your own palate, seize a basic set of ingredients and alter it just so–enhance it, own it–to impart depths of flavor on less expensive cuts of meat and fish, ordinary pasta, or simple vegetables just beyond their prime.
Even the NYT recipe relied on a variation of one of the mother sauces, a velouté, and I really did love that dish and everything about it, but Jacqueline? She felt for the amount of work that went into dinner it should have been spectacular. For us, in our own home anyway, at this point in our lives and careers, and with our children, spectacular often means simple.
So I’m going to share a simple recipe for pot pie, and it all starts with the béchamel which you will easily master, and can later use for, oh, I don’t know–macaroni and cheese (at the bottom of this page), Mornay (which makes a delicious creamed spinach–also at the bottom of this page), Thanksgiving gravy, grilled Halibut, any creamy soup base . . .
First, the Béchamel:
Salt is essential here, because milk is a salt eater and blandifier.
A lot of online require the milk to be warmed. That’s a fallacy. If you start with cool milk, as it warms it has time to absorb the flour and take on the flavors of the onion and thyme
You can find a good pie crust here.
Pot Pie Filling: This is going to be way too easy, it is absolutely cheating, and I feel like Sandra Lee even taking this approach, but it really is what I’d do if I were making pot pie at home.
Béchamel is the first part of a Mornay recipe, which is how creamed spinach is made, so: