Thursday, November 13, 2008
I interrupt the normally scheduled Thursday wine post to bring you this very important recipe. Very important. People, we need to talk about savory pie crust. And I have to tell you, I'm rather excited about the Putney Mountain Winery Apple Maple wine that was scheduled for this posting, but it is far more important that you know about savory pie crust immédiatement, as the French who perfected and shared it with us (by way of Julia Child) would say.
Let's just say you have some leftovers - perhaps a beef stew, perhaps some chicken in, oh, I don't know, mushroom gravy - and you're thinking, "boring! I can't possibly eat that again." Well, my friends, should this happen to you, get thee to your pantry and whip up a savory pie crust, and in about a half an hour, you will be placing into your oven a dish worthy of company. I kid you not. And if you happen to be company at my house during the winter months, please do not be so gauche as to ask if the meat and gravy part of the pie are leftovers. They most assuredly are. And yet, you will be overwhelmed with the transcendent buttery flakiness of the crust, and will not care that I am serving you leftovers, my dear guest.
So here's the thing: you must not be afraid of making the crust. The crust is your friend. It will work with you. However, should you be quivering now just reading about savory pie crust, I can relate. I feel your pain. I, too, was once afraid. Very afraid. And then, one Valentine's Day, I came home from work, and there was JR with a four-course meal underway. A four-course meal that included a from-scratch pie crust. I don't think I need to tell you that I do most - and by most, I mean all but this one Valentine's Day I am currently describing - of the cooking in my house. And yet, I came home to find JR making pie crust. Now, you might think that I would be agape upon finding him making this incredible meal, and - oh, let me assure you, I was - but more than anything else, I could not get over that he had made a pie crust from scratch. As I ate the roasted squab (I kid you not) and the country pâté, I could not for the life of me stop the little Amy in my head (oh yes, I'm scared of her too) from saying, "he made pie crust from scratch. He made pie crust from scratch. He made pie crust from scratch." Ok. You get the idea. I'll stop with that. You see, unlike you and me, he didn't know that he was supposed to be afraid to make pie dough, and so he just made the pie dough. And it was perfect. And yours will be too. So just forget that you've read anything that implies that pie dough is challenging to craft, and get thee to thy pantry, gather up the flour and butter and vegetable shortening, and let's make a savory pie crust, shall we?
Savory Pie Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup very cold vegetable shortening
1 stick very cold unsalted butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk (any type)
Now, you do not need a food processor for this, but I will provide instruction to make this in the food processor if you are so inclined. My personal feeling is that you can do this with just a mixing bowl and your fingers, or a pastry blender, which is a hand-held tool, and avoid all that washing of the food processor.
The a mano (by hand) method:
Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Stir to blend.
Cut the very cold vegetable shortening and the very cold butter into 1/2 inch, or close to 1/2 inch, cubes and add to flour mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, which are the coldest part of your hands (I probably don't need to tell you this, and yet, here I am), blend the butter and shortening into the flour. What this means is, you plunge your fingers into the flour, coating the fats (butter and shortening) with flour, while breaking up the fats until they are roughly pea-sized. It is perfectly ok for some of them to be larger than pea-sized, you just don't want them to be close to the same size as the cubes you initially placed into the flour. Remove your fingers from the flour and fats mixture. Get yourself a fork. Pour 1/2 cup very cold, which is redundant, but I am trying to make a point, ice water into the flour and fats mixture and blend water into the dough with the fork. You are trying to moisten the the dough just enough that it holds together, so if there is still dry mix in your bowl, and I'm pretty certain there will be, add very cold, oh, absolutely frigid, ice water to the dough 1 tablespoon at a time, blending in gently, until the dough is just holding together. As you are adding the frigid, gelid, extremely cold ice water, I recommend that you do use a measuring spoon or one of those very handy OXO liquid measuring cups. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Now, let's just say that you're making a chicken with mushroom gravy pot pie from scratch, but let's also say that you decided to use a rotisserie chicken which you had picked up from the grocery store on your way home, and you're going to make a quick mushroom gravy on the stove top. You could pick the chicken clean and make the gravy in about the amount of time it takes for the savory pie dough to firm up in the refrigerator. Now, let's pretend that your grocery store sells rotisserie chicken for $7.99 each. And that your mushrooms cost $3.90. And that the broth you use costs around $2.19. And that the wine you use is from one of those four-packs of wine that are so convenient for cooking, so it costs around $1.25. And you use a shallot, which costs you about 50-cents. And there's such a small amount of flour involved in the gravy that we throw that cost into the pie crust fee. And that the pie crust costs roughly $2.50 to make. And that the pie serves six. Now, how much does that cost us? That's right, people. It costs us $18.33 for the whole thing. $3.05 per serving. With purchased rotisserie chicken.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
So now your gravy is done; it and the chicken are in the pie pan, and you need only to get the savory pie dough out of the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to approximately 1/4 inch thickness in some approximation of a circle (or a rectangle, or a square; whatever shape baking dish you're using). As soon as the dough is rolled out, gently lift it and place it atop your baking dish. Push the dough down the sides of the dish to firmly cover the filling as though you're tucking someone you love into a toasty bed, allowing for an inch or so of dough overhanging the edges of the baking dish. Crimp the overhanging dough over itself to create a thicker crust edge. Blend the egg yolk and tablespoon of milk together and brush over top of the crust. Cut five one-inch slits in the dough over the filling - be decorative with it if you like - and place your masterpiece into the oven. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. I advise you to put the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet in order to prevent spillage on the bottom of the oven, which might result in copious amounts of smoke in your kitchen, and might require you to set the oven to clean the next day. Ahem. Not that this is happening now at my house, or anything.
The number of dishes that can be fancied up with this dough is practically limitless. Ok, so you're a vegetarian. How about a vegetable stew, or a lentil and carrot stew? You there, Ms. Carnivore, let's make a chili con carne and top it off with a layer of shredded pepper jack cheese and then the crust. Or maybe a lamb and carrot stew would be more to your liking. Why not add a bit of goat cheese under the crust for that dish? You see what I mean? Practically limitless.
Now, not to scare you about the dough, because we all know now that the dough is your friend and is infinitely useful, but the reason why the very cold items are very cold is because you need the fats not to be fully blended into the dough in order to achieve flakiness. It is the little bits of fat that create flakiness and give you that buttery crust which we all hold so dear. This is also why you should use your fingers, the cold part of your hands, and not your palms, which are the warm part of your hands. If it makes your life easier, you can put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 5-10 minutes to assure that they are both very cold.
Now, I promised a food processor version of the recipe, so here goes:
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Then add the cubed very cold butter and cubed very cold vegetable shortening to the flour, and pulse until fats are pea-sized. With the motor running, add 1/2 cup of very cold water to the dough. If the dough does not come together completely, add very cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, being very careful of the metal blade - that thing is sharp - and knead quickly and gently into a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
This recipe is quite easy either by hand or by machine. It must be due to the fact that I have to hand wash my dishes (that's right. I have no newfangled dishwashing machine at my house.) that I'm not fully embracing the food processor method, but, as you are probably now aware from reading my other posts, I enjoy working with dough a mano. It's soothing, and also gratifying to know your two warm palms and ten cold fingers put it all together.
Dinner tonight: leftover chicken-mushroom pie. We had the option of having leftover butternut squash lasagna, which is also quite scrumptious, but both JR and I voted for the chicken-mushroom pie. I have to revise my math from yesterday's post, however, because it turns out that I was able to make 6 servings from the ingredients listed. The savory short crust actually cost $2.50, rather than the $1.55 I had estimated. I was off by a cup of flour and a little for both the butter and the shortening. The chicken is leftover from the chicken and mushroom meal on Tuesday and this portion cost $2.53. The mushroom gravy is still being considered free for this meal. So, now, the total for SIX servings is $5.03. And like I wrote earlier in the post, even if you did this from scratch with a rotisserie chicken, it's still only $3.05 per serving. That is NUTS. You can't deny it. And if you are invited for dinner at my house, know that you will be eating this. I made it with love for you, so don't be despondent over the relative lack of monetary expense. Oh, and I sure do hope you bring a nice wine to go with it.