Guest Post: Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie

I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing bloggers through Taste As You Go, some personally and some virtually via Google Reader and Twitter. In an attempt to introduce my readers to some bloggers they may not know about and to highlight the writing skills of some incredibly talented people, I will be featuring Guest Posts on Taste As You Go from time to time.

Today's Guest Post was written by Greg Palmer, a fellow graduate of Lehigh University, an inspiring friend, and the first non-food blogger being featured here. Greg has been a source of relentless support and encouragement since I was laid off in August and I'm honored to offer him another forum in which to showcase his abilities. When you're finished reading Greg's Guest Post, you should check out his blog and his new online venture, CitizeNYC. Thanks for writing, Greg!

Fall is here, and that makes me crave home-style food with warm, deep flavors and colors like the leaves turning on the trees. I think of chicken pot pie, bubbling pot roast, and cozying up next to the non-existent fireplace in my tiny Manhattan apartment.

When I started planning my meal for Taste As You Go, I had a few goals in mind. First, and foremost, I wanted to capture the spirit of fall and the deep tastes of chicken pot pie. Second, I wanted to learn some new techniques to stretch myself as a cook. And, finally, I wanted each component of the meal to stand equally well on its own. No side dishes hastily thrown together to support the main entree -- everything had to be thoughtful and delicious.

Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie - Photo Courtesy of Greg Palmer

So, in a fit of Top Chef madness, I decided to create my own version of chicken pot pie by breaking down the ingredients into individual dishes. My menu consisted of braised chicken thighs, rough-chopped roasted fall vegetables, and a simple risotto to recreate the creaminess of the gravy. I'll warn you now that I cook in very rough proportions, so these recipes will still work great if you modify them to your liking. (Editor's Note: Clearly, Greg embraces the concept of tasting as he goes!)

Braised Chicken Thighs - Photo Courtesy of Greg Palmer

Braised Chicken
Adapted from Epicurious

12-15 bone-in chicken thighs
About 60 cloves of garlic, with the husk/skin still on (3 big bulbs should do it)
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
6 large sprigs of fresh thyme

Trim the excess fat off of the chicken thighs and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Smash the garlic cloves slightly - again, with the skin still on - to open up the flavors while still leaving them whole.

Heat about 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add a layer of chicken to the bottom of the pot and cook until it's brown on all sides. You'll need to work in 2-3 batches. (This took me 15 minutes per batch.) Set the mostly-cooked chicken aside on a plate.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic cloves to the mixture that's in the bottom of the pot. Stir until the garlic gets nice and golden, about 4-5 minutes, then add the wine and thyme and bring it all to a boil. Be sure to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan to take advantage of all that flavor.

Reduce the heat to medium and layer all of the chicken back into the pot. Cover and let simmer for 25-30 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so, move the chicken pieces around from top to bottom. The meat should get very tender and be almost falling off the bone.

Simple Risotto - Photo Courtesy of Greg Palmer

While the chicken is simmering, prepare the risotto. This is a basic risotto recipe that I use to build more complex risottos. Contrary to popular belief, making risotto is EASY - it just takes time and patience. In this case, we're using it for the creamy texture and rich flavor, so I'm not adding any special ingredients to it (sausage, apples, etc.). Fresh Direct was featuring a really nice Piave Vecchio, so I subbed in that for half of the Parmesan. (Normally, I'd use a full 1/2 pound of Parmesan.)

Simple Risotto
Inspired by The Moment Blog

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2 shallots, chopped (you can easily use an onion instead)
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 - 3/4 cup dry white wine
32 ounces vegetable broth (chicken broth works fine, too)
2 cups water
1/4 pound freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 pound freshly grated Piave Vecchio

Combine the broth and water in a medium-sized pot (whatever seems appropriate) and heat on medium-low heat. When you're cooking risotto, you want the broth you're adding to be warm or nearly hot. The temperature doesn't have to be exact, but room temperature or cold broth will cause the grains to seize up.

Heat the butter in a large pan over medium heat, then add the shallots, letting them cook until they get a bit soft. Add the Arborio rice and toast the grains, stirring constantly. This takes about 1-2 minutes. Add the white wine and stir. Once most of the alcohol burns off, add a half-ladle-full of broth. Keeping the temperature at medium and stirring constantly, continue adding the broth slowly in the manner every few minutes.

After 20 minutes or so, start tasting the grains for doneness, as you would with pasta. This is subjective - a risotto is done when it's creamy and still slightly chewy. Once cooked, stir in the grated cheese and, if you wish, a bit more butter. The addition of butter at the end of the cooking process creates a wonderfully rich, deep-flavored risotto.

Roasted Vegetables - Photo Courtesy of Greg Palmer

Roasted Vegetables

The choice of which vegetables to use is up to you. I used butternut squash, fingerling potatoes, carrots, and white sweet potatoes, which I'd never worked with before. They're firmer and less sweet than traditional yams, but they are delicious! I just rough-chopped all of the veggies and mixed them up with a little fresh rosemary and olive oil in a plastic bag. Then, I spread them on a baking sheet and roasted them at 425°F for about 45 minutes, flipping them occasionally with a spatula.

I found that these recipes worked well together, especially since I thought them out in advance. I warmed the oven as I was preparing the veggies and starting to brown the chicken. Then I put the veggies in the oven and started the chicken simmering so I could focus on my risotto.

As for taste, these dishes didn't quite achieve my goals, but, for me, experimentation is why I cook. My dinner guests said the chicken was very nicely, but lightly, seasoned, which isn't exactly how I think of chicken pot pie. But the dishes were all wonderful. The high point of the process was the roasted white sweet potatoes -- I'll definitely be using those again!

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