Whole chicken (one-) pot pie

For the last few months I’ve been making the same chicken soup almost every week.

This is how it’s made:Take a whole chicken and put it in a pot. Cover it with water and add salt. Bring it to a boil and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and let it cool for half an hour, then pick off the meat from the carcass and set it aside in a bowl. Return the bones and skin back to the pot and let it simmer the rest of the afternoon.

An hour before dinner, remove the bones and season the broth with fish sauce, soy sauce, scallions, ginger and cilantro. Let simmer. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles (bánh phở) then rinse and add to bowls, along with chopped scallions and cilantro. About five minutes before serving, strain the broth — I just use a spider skimmer to save dishes — add the chicken meat and bring the soup back to a boil. Ladle it over the noodles and herbs. Serve with chili sauce.

The recipe is from David Chang and Priya Krishna’s cookbook Cooking at Home. The book’s subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave)” really sums up the approach to cooking and many of the “recipes” in the book, many of which are just guidelines or jumping off points.

I’ve been cooking that way more lately, too. It’s a change from my late teens and twenties, when I was a stickler for recipes, insisting on following the steps letter for letter and no substitutions in the ingredient list. But whether because of old age, the compromises involved in raising children or just getting tired of it, in the last few years I’ve found myself reading recipes a lot less closely, only skimming them to get the gist and falling back on kitchen habits.

The nice thing about using recipes as a place to start rather than a hard set of rules is that it makes you adaptable. For example, that noodle soup described above? It could pretty easily turn into chicken pot pie.

Boil the chicken the same way, pick the meat, and strain the stock.

Then in the empty dutch oven, melt four tablespoons of butter and cook chopped onion and carrots. Add flour to make a roux, then slowly add in the stock to make a thick sauce (sauce velouté). Add the picked chicken and frozen peas, cream and a squeeze of lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

You’ll need a pie crust. You could use a store bought crust, but here’s how I make mine: Put a generous scoop of white flour in a food processor, then add a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Run the machine to mix that, then drop in about seven tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks. Run the processor to cut the butter into the flour. Drizzle a quarter cup of water over the mixture and run the machine till the mixture comes together into a single mass, adding more water if it seems too dry. Turn it on to the counter, need it a couple times and form it into a disk and chill it in the fridge for half an hour before rolling it out.

Roll it out into a circle the same size as the top of your pot. If your pot has a lid, you’ve got an easy template — jut put the lid on top of the dough and trim along the edge. Cut some vents into the dough lid, then transfer it on top of the chicken stew.

Bake for an hour at 375ºF. If the top crust seems too pale you can always turn on the broiler at the end.

And there you have it: a one chicken, one pot pot pie that started life as chicken soup.

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