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Test Kitchen: Freezing chicken pot pie is a breeze

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 5:57 p.m.
Chicken pot pie prepared in the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen. (Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Question: When freezing chicken pot pie, should you make and freeze or make, bake and freeze?

Answer: Chicken pot pie is one of those true comfort foods. The flaky crust paired with the creamy chicken and vegetable filling is one hearty meal. And most people I know agree: When it comes to pot pie, the crust is the best part.

If you want to make your own chicken pot pie, there are several ways to make and freeze so you don't end up with a soggy crust or too thin a filling.

When you want to make it and freeze, think of it like lasagna. You can make, bake, cool and freeze. Or you can make, assemble and freeze. Either way, when you're ready to cook, there's no need to thaw; just add a good 15 to 20 minutes of extra baking time.

Another way is to just make the filling, cool it and store in freezer-quality bags. This way, you can make several batches of filling and place the bags flat in the freezer. And if you make your own dough for the crust, you can make it, shape it into a disk and freeze it, too. Thaw the filling and dough overnight. You can roll out the dough for the bottom crust, add the filling and then the top crust in the time it takes to heat the oven.

To freeze an unbaked pot pie, assemble it in a pie plate or dish. Place it in the freezer, dish and all. After it's frozen, pop it out of the pie plate, wrap in foil and then in freezer-quality plastic wrap. Freeze up to three months. When ready to bake, brush the top with an egg wash. Place the pie in a 375-degree oven. For unbaked pot pie, allow at least 50 minutes to fully cook it. If the edges brown too much, cover with strips of foil.

To freeze an already baked chicken pot pie, cool it completely after baking. This might take a good 30 minutes or more; after that you can refrigerate it to chill it more. Once cool, follow the same instructions as above for freezing. To reheat, no need to thaw, reheat in 375-degree oven for about 35 minutes.

Pot pies — sometimes referred to as meat pies because they can be made with any kind of meat or poultry — have a long history, dating to the 18th century. One thing for certain, according to.foodtimeline.org, is while a pot pie always has a top crust, it doesn't always have a bottom crust. And the crust isn't always a traditional pie dough crust, either.

Which brings me to today's recipes. One is a favorite of mine that uses a puff-pastry crust. You can make individual pies or make one in a larger casserole dish. You can also make the pie using a traditional crust. The other recipe for individual chicken hand pies can be made as one 9-inch pie. Use your favorite pie crust recipe or store-bought or the one provided.

Susan Selasky is a Detroit Free Press writer.

Chicken Pot Pie

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup chopped onion

2 to 3 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth or stock

1 cup 1 percent milk

2 cups frozen peas and carrots

2 cups cubed or shredded seasoned rotisserie chicken

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon Morton Nature's Seasons seasoning blend

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Hheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place 6 individual ramekins (6- to 8-ounce size) on a baking sheet. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until it is just turning golden. Sprinkle in the 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and milk. Cook on medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture has thickened. Add the peas and carrots, chicken, thyme, seasoning blend, salt and black pepper to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes. If mixture is too thin, scoop out some of the liquid into a small bowl and mix in the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour. Stir the flour mixture back into the saucepan and heat a few more minutes to thicken.

Divide the mixture into the ramekins. Cut out puff pastry rounds to just fit over the filling. Brush the top with egg wash.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry round is puffed and golden brown, and the filling is bubbly.

Remove from oven and serve.

Makes 6 individual pot pies

Nutrition per serving: 415 calories, 22 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 52 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 464 milligrams sodium

Savory Chicken Pocket Pies

From “Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys: Recipes, Strategies & Survival Techniques” by Lucinda Scala Quinn (Artisan, $27.95). Not tested by the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (not all active time)

1 heaping cup of shredded chicken from 1 chicken (3 pounds); freeze remainder for other recipes

Water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing baking sheet if desired

12 cup chopped onion

13 cup chopped celery

13 cup chopped carrot (1 carrot)

12 teaspoon coarse salt

2 tablespoons flour

1 12 cups chicken broth (from the reduced poaching liquid)

14 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 recipe (2 disks) Cream Cheese Pastry (recipe below)

1 large egg, for egg wash

Place the chicken in a pot and add water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 50 minutes. Skim and discard any foam as it rises to the surface. Remove the chicken to cool. Continue to boil the broth to reduce to about 1 quart. Remove the meat from the chicken and shred.

To make the filling, in a medium hot skillet, melt the butter and add the onion, celery and carrot. Sauté over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the salt and flour and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken broth and stir until thickened, for about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 heaping cup shredded chicken and the parmesan cheese. Cool in the fridge.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or line a baking sheet.

To form the pocket pies, work with half of a disk of dough at a time, rolling it out on a floured surface to about 12 inches in diameter. Using an overturned bowl (about 5 inches across), cut out about 3 circles from each piece of dough. After cutting out all your circles, gather all dough scraps, reroll, and cut out a final time. Place 14 cup filling on one side of a dough circle. Wet the edges of the dough with water. Fold the dough over to form a half-circle. Pinch the edges of the dough together. Crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat the process until all the filling is used. The pocket pies can be frozen at this point.

Place the pocket pies on the prepared baking sheet and chill for a few minutes. Prick each pie on top twice with a fork. When ready to bake, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the egg wash over each pocket pie. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. The pies can be cooled and frozen to reheat in the microwave.

Makes 10 pies

Nutrition per pie: 257 calories, 18 grams fat (11 grams saturated fat), 61 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 0 dietary fiber, 235 milligrams sodium

Cream Cheese Pastry

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

14 cup heavy whipping cream

1 12 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, plus more for rolling out dough

12 teaspoon coarse salt

In a food processor or using an electric mixer or by hand, process the butter, cream cheese and heavy whipping cream.

Add the flour and salt; process just until combined and the dough holds together in a ball. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and divide in 2 pieces. Flatten into disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. If the dough is chilled overnight, take it out 15 minutes before rolling out.

Rub flour all over a rolling pin. Working with one disk at a time, place the disk on a clean, well-floured surface. Roll gently from the center of the dough to the top and bottom edges. Rotate the disk, and roll to the top and bottom edges again. Reflour the work surface and rolling pin, turn the dough over, and continue to roll the dough from the center out to the edges. Turn over and roll again, rotating the disk to ensure even rolling until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter, thin but not transparent.

Makes enough for 10 pocket pies.

Nutrition per serving: 186 calories, 14 grams fat (9 grams saturated fat), 41 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 0 dietary fiber, 155 milligrams sodium

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