A Bird In The Pie Transcript

The Kitchen

    If you're a fan of this program, you've probably noticed that, over the years, we've made a lot of pie: including, but not limited to, No Pan Pear Pie, Shoo-Fly Pie, [Super] Apple Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, Sweet Potato Pie, Mincemeat Pie, Shepherd's Pie with actual shepherd. Obviously I like pie. Why? Well, it's darn tasty, for one thing, and it's also a link to our collective culinary past. No pie proves this point better than the pie known as chicken pot pie. It is a meal, it is a history lesson, and in the right hands, it is definitely ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

The Kitchen

    Although pot pies flourished in ancient Greece and Rome, where salted pastry crusts were used as a means of preservation, the golden age of pot pies didn't dawn until the Middle Ages, when the word "pie" still meant a bird.
    [looking out of the kitchen window, using binoculars] Behold, the European magpie. It was called 'pie' because it is indeed pied, meaning variegated black and white, and because back then, "pie" referred to a hastily assembled pile, which is what this bird is famous for making in its nest from various stolen items, like ... that looks like my watch ... nah. Um, once a pie came to mean "pie" as we know it, "mag" was added to the bird's name because "mag" means to chatter incessantly, which is what that bird does plenty of.
    Now by the Middle Ages, meat pies, including those enclosing fowl, were all the rage. You know, we usually don't go into historic cookery in this show, but considering what's under the floor of this kitchen, it seems appropriate. [looking at the magpie nest] Huh, those glasses ... nah, never mind.

The Dungeon

GUEST: The Dungeon Master

    [AB descends into the basement] Sometimes, such pastry crusts, which were referred to as "coffins", held surprising entertainments inside. Consider the nursery rhyme: "Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket of full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, baked into a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing."

DUNGEON MASTER: [pops out of a model of a huge fake pie] "And wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?" [laughs as he tosses a stuffed blackbird into the air] Fly, free.
AB: Unless, of course, it scared the king to death.
DM: Did I frighten you, Master?
AB: Among other things.
DM: Goody.

    [walks over to a table] Behold the average medieval kitchen. Not much in the way of pie pans or soufflés, casseroles or baking dishes, no oven, per se, just a wood fire built primarily for baking bread.

    Now the cooks of the period adapted to the situation by creating their own cookware out of dough. Several pastry styles were popular during the period, but my favorite for building what is called a "standing pie," is a hot water crust, which follows a very basic formula. Namely, [Dungeon Master wheels in a blackboard] 100 parts of flour, 50 parts of water or water-type liquid, 35 parts of solid fat, and .0125 parts of salt, which we can translate to 1.25%. 100 PARTS FLOUR

    So, if we start with, say, 20 ounces of flour, the liquid would be?

DM: [after some calculation, using an abacus] Ten ounces, Master.
AB: And the fat would be?
DM: [more calculating with the abacus] Oh, the fatses is 7.5 ounces, Master.
AB: And the salt would be...
DM: [still more calculating with the abacus] The salt is one quarter ounce, Master.
AB: Excellent, and I believe that we can simply convert that to 2 1/4 teaspoons, which I have right here. Let's cook.

    Salt goes into the flour, and just mix that together and set aside. 2¼ tsp. Kosher Salt
20 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
    Then break out your cauldron, or just a pot will be fine, and add 7.5 ounces of lard, if you can get it. You can use shortening as well, but it won't be nearly as good. Top that with five ounces each of water and 2% milk. You can use whole milk in a pinch. Bring that to a boil, remove from the heat, and dump the dry goods right in, stirring until a loose dough forms. Then turn it out onto the board, and as soon as it's cool enough to handle, start kneading. 7½ Ounces Lard
5 Ounces Each Water &
    2% Milk

    Now, you may ask, "Why use boiling water?" Because hot water will force most of the starch granules in the flour to swell and burst ...

DM: [demonstrates with a spring in a can]

... a process called gelation. It means the starches will be able to hold more water, and that will translate to a dough that's more plastic and more workable than a dough made with cold water. As for the fat, adding it with the liquid, rather than as a solid, the way you would short dough or biscuits, thoroughly lubricates the gluten molecules, which will keep the dough from being too elastic.

DM: [illustrates using an isometric arm exerciser]

And it will also provide some waterproofing, which will be a very useful characteristic, as you shall soon see. There.
    Allow your coffin-making dough to cool for a minimum of five minutes. In the meantime, we'll contemplate the bird.

AB: [yelling] Dungeon Master!
DM: Yes, Master.
AB: Please fetch me a Cornish hen in the 25 to 30 ounce range, and soak it for one hour in a brine composed of one quart of H2O, three-quarters of a cup of kosher salt, and half a cup of honey.
DM: Way ahead of you, Master. [hands AB a plate with the hen]
AB: Great Scott! Creepy little guy, but efficient.

    Step one, remove the skin from the breast. Scissors or shears are definitely the tool for the job. I do this because I want better flavor penetration from the spices to come. There.

    All right, time to fill'er up with dried fruit that is. I like a mixture of crystallized ginger chunks, figs, apricots, and a few prunes, because... 1 Cup Crystallized Ginger, Dried Figs, Apricots & Prunes

DM: ... you got to be regular if you're going to be happy.

    And I like to leave the fruit whole because it's a lot easier to heat that way. I know, it looks like a lot of fruit, but there's going to be a lot of juice for that fruit to soak up. All right, it's going to be hard to build a coffin around this with the legs sticking out, so go ahead and lace them up with a simple knot, and clip the excess string. And set the bird aside, and start working on the dough again.
    To tell you the truth, this is fun stuff. It's like Play-Doh, only it tastes good. Now we're going to need three pieces, so we're going to cut it in half, do a little rolling, and then cut half in half. These two pieces will turn into the top and bottom of our pie.
    Now put down a piece of parchment, lay your bird on it, and just trace around with a pencil, about half an inch larger than the bird itself. That's going to be our template. And make sure you turn that over so that you don't end up, you know, eating the pencil graphite.

During the Elizabethan Era double crusted savory
pies were often decorated elaborately.

The Dungeon

GUESTS: Medieval Knights #1 & #2

    All right, pie construction continues. Take one of the quarter pieces of dough, and just roughly form out to fulfill the lines from the template. There you go. Remove and set aside. That'll be our top, and then this one will be the bottom of the pie, same size. Good, now move that one off.
    Now we've got to deal with the walls, so we're going to take the second half of the dough, and just slowly work it out into a long piece that's about four inches wide. Take your time and use a little bit of flour as needed to keep it off the board.

    There, now we build. I'm going to start with the base, brush it down with an egg wash composed of one egg yolk and a tablespoon of water. Place maybe five sprigs of thyme on that, and then position the hen thusly. 1 Egg Yolk + 1 Tbs. Water
5 Springs Fresh Thyme

    Now here comes the wall. This is just like working with Play-Doh. Mold it around, attaching it to the bottom as you go.

    Now we're going to add some spices to the top of this. A quarter teaspoon of paprika. I like smoked paprika. Also a quarter teaspoon of ground cumin, right on top. A quarter teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground. I didn't even need to say that. And a quarter teaspoon also of freshly ground allspice. These were very very popular during the medieval age. A little more egg wash, and then we can put on the roof of our coffin. Just work it down and squeeze, forming a nice seal. A little more egg wash will ensure proper browning. There. ¼ tsp. Paprika
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Cumin
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground

    [at the oven] As for baking, slide into a hot, earthen oven, with a slightly dying fire, or park in a more traditional 350-degree oven, for one hour and 15 minutes.

350 Degrees

    [with the baked pie] Ah, when the pie is finished, remove from the oven and rest for 20 minutes before breaking in. Now when the time comes, I suggest you use either a large serrated knife or an electric knife. There we go. [slices into the pie horizontally about an inch from the top]
    Now you may have heard that back in medieval times that ...

MEDIEVAL KNIGHTS: [enter fighting with swords and leave]

... the period, not the supper club, that pie crusts such as this would not actually be consumed, but I seriously doubt that such an edible resource would have been squandered. Yes, the Lord and Lady of the house may have enjoyed refined bread with their hens, but you know what? The servants had to be fed too, and I sus ...

DM: [camera pans to DM, looking expectantly with a mangled fork, who pushes an empty plate over to AB]
AB: [gives him the top crust]
[takes a bite] True, 'tis a bit hard.

    But it would have had to have been to be rigid enough to contain all of this goodness, and waterproof, so as to not leak.

DM: Indeed, the delectable juicinesses have soaked in to make it quite delish.
AB: Do you think that maybe I should just try a little ...
DM: No, no. Master must only eat the hen. Wouldn't want to bruise his teethesses on the nasty crusties.
AB: Oh, bother.

Tourtiere is a type of meat pot pie that hails from Quebec.

    In 1951, the C.A. Swanson and Sons Company unleashed the first frozen, reheatable meal, and its name was chicken pot pie. Many of us remember such pies fondly because back then our Moms didn't know any better than to feed us a meal containing 22 grams of fat, and 770 grams of sodium. It's high time that we took our pie back. Sorry, Mom. First stage, prep!
    Vegetation needs to be fabricated. Chop one large onion, and slice eight ounces of cremini mushrooms into quarter-inch slices. Also quarter-inch slices to be performed on two average-sized carrots, and two stalks of celery. Then mince two cloves of garlic, and chop a teaspoon each of fresh tarragon and thyme before turning your attention to a pound and a half of boneless chicken.

    Then place a 10-inch cast iron skillet over high heat, then add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. When it shimmers, add the chicken, cooking in batches if necessary. And you should probably add a teaspoon of salt along the way. There you go. 1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil

1½ Pounds Boneless, Skinless
1 tsp. Kosher Salt

    All right, when the chicken is cooked through, move to a waiting bowl, then return the pan to the heat, but reduce the heat to medium. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, and then bring forth the vegetation. All of it at one time, along with half a teaspoon each of dried tarragon and dried thyme, followed by one and a half teaspoons of kosher salt and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Now cook this for another couple of minutes, stirring often. There. 1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil
1 Large Onion
2 Medium Carrots
8 Ounces Cremini Mushrooms
2 Medium Celery Stalks
2 Cloves Garlic
½ tsp. Each Dried Tarragon
    & Dried Thyme
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
    Now add two ounces (that's four tablespoons) of butter. When it's melted, sprinkle on three ounces of all-purpose flour, and cook for another one to two minutes. 2 Ounces Unsalted Butter

3 Ounces All-Purpose Flour

    Then, gradually stir in two cups of low-sodium chicken broth—homemade, of course, would be bestand a cup and a half of 2% milk. Bring that to a simmer, and keep it there for three minutes so that the flour has time to gelatinize.

2 Cups Chicken Broth
1½ Cups 2% Milk

DM: [re-enacts the gelatinization with the spring-in-a-can prop]
AB: Don't you have a dungeon to master?
DM: Well, I am the dungeon master.
AB: Yeah, well don't let the trapdoor hit you in the hump, okay?
DM: What hump?
AB: You got ... [points and then realizes he's been joked]

The term "pot pie" first appeared in American print in 1792.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Tender and Flaky

    All right, when the sauce has thickened, kill the heat, and stir in the reserved cooked chicken pieces, along with our final dose of vegetation. Eight ounces of frozen peas. And no, you don't have to thaw them. And of course, the fresh herbs [thyme & tarragon]. We always add those at the end to best preserve their volatile flavor and aroma. 8 Ounces Frozen Green Peas
1 tsp. Each Fresh Thyme &

    Now, cover, and contemplate the most important part of the meal. That, of course, being the crust. Now if you ask me, a standard pie crustthat tender, yet flaky concoction, most often used in dessert pies ...

TENDER & FLAKEY: [come into view and begin punching AB for a few seconds and then stop as AB wanders away]

You remember Tender and Flaky, don't you? I know I doit has no place on, in, under or even near a decent chicken pot pie. What crust do I feel to be suitable for the mission? Puff pastry. Homemade puff pastry.

    My version of a scotch, or blitz puff pastry begins with 10 ounces of bread flour, combined with two ounces of whole wheat flour, and a teaspoon of fine salt, that, an hour ago, was a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt, but then I ran it through my spice grinder. This bag also contains ten ounces of butter, cut into small cubes. The entirety has been chilled one hour in the freezer. Oh, we're also going to need a couple of ice cubes, in order to chill twelve tablespoons of water. There. 10 Ounces Bread Flour +
2 Ounces Whole Wheat
    Flour +
1 tsp. Fine Salt
10 Ounces Unsalted Butter

12 Tbs. Ice Water

    Now begin by dumping all of this stuff [bag of flour mixture] right on the counter. Our first job is to break up the butter and really get it integrated into the flour, and for that, the best tool for the job is a board scraper, a.k.a., a dough knife. Now just chop until the butter kind of looks like pea meal, then start sprinkling on the water a couple of tablespoons at a time and folding it in. I would love to be able to tell you exactly how much water it'll take to bring this dough together, but it will depend upon the day and actually the age of the flour. I've gone with about eight tablespoons here, maybe 10, before it looks like this.
    Now I know this doesn't actually look like a dough, but it will, once we start pounding on it. Okay, this is important. If at any time the butter starts to feel over-softened, just stop what you're doing, put a sheet pan on top of the dough with a bag of ice or a couple of cold packs for about five minutes, and then start working it again. Believe me, if the butter melts, we're doomed. [AB continues to bang on the top of the dough with his rolling pin until it flattens out into a larger rectangle, he then folds up 1/3 of the sides into the middle using his board scrapper (letter-folds as he mentions below) and repeats the process]
    After four letter-folds, we make the book. Fold this end into the center, this end into the center, then just close it, book-style. [essentially a double letter-fold] Then wrap in parchment and refrigerate for 60 minutes.

    Let us take a few moments to review what makes puff pastry tick. All right, puff pastry is what we call a laminate dough, composed of hundreds, if not thousands, of layers of strong, high gluten dough, alternating with strata of butter.
DOUGH ->  ###################
BUTTER -> --------------------------
    In the oven, the water in the dough and butter turns to steam providing lift, while the fat provides separation, browning, and of course, flavor. Now if we were French, we would use a meticulous and time-honored method by which the layers of dough and butter would be contiguous and woven together. In the scotch, or blitz method, things are a little loosey-goosey, but we'll still get 70 percent of the lift, and all of the flavor in a fraction of the time.
DOUGH ->  ###################
STEAM  ->   ◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦◦

    All right, to build, we need our filling standing by. You're also going to need a very sharp paring knife, a little more egg wash, and four containers. I'm using 16-ounce soufflés here, but you could use French onion soup crocks if you like, as long as they're oven-safe. I've got some flour standing by as well to help me deal with this dough, which I am going to cut in half. It's easier to work with that way.
    Roll to 1/4 of an inch, to 3/16 of an inch before cutting. In doing that, you're going to need some kind of a template. I'm using a lid from a pot that's a little bit wider than the vessels. That's because the dough will shrink as it puffs. Now it looks like I'm only going to get two out of this dough, but that's okay. These scraps can be rolled up and saved for another application. That, of course, will have to be another show, however. Roll out the second piece, and I will have more scraps. That's fine. Egg wash goes on each of the disks, and then we fill. Make sure that you fill each of your chosen vessels almost to the top. We don't want a lot of extra space, or it'll mess up the puffage rate of our dough.
    When all of the vessels are full, apply the disks, and make sure you put them on egg wash down. That will help to hold them in place. There's no reason to squeeze, press, crimp, or seal. Just lay them on, and then hit them with a little more egg wash to ensure browning.

    [at the oven] And now, into the 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. At that point, decrease the heat to 400, and continue cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is not quite mahogany on top. Oh, and if your oven has the ugly habit of cooking things unevenly, you're going to want to turn this pan 180 degrees at the midway point.

425 Degree

Decrease to 400 Degrees
After 15 minutes

    [at the table] Now, once your chicken pot pies are golden brown and delicious, remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes so, you know, you don't burn your face off.
    Now, when it comes to serving, there are different schools. Some folks like to dig in right from the top, the way you would a pie. Me, I am an inverter. I like to turn the pie out so that the crust is on the bottom, and the meat and veggies are on top. But hey, to each his own.
    Now, I know what you're thinking. "What about breakfast?" Well, chicken pot pie, of course, but with a twist. Now watch closely, because we don't have a lot of time to waste.

The Pennsylvania Dutch make a chicken pot pie sometimes called Bott Boi.

The Kitchen

    The steps of our chicken biscuit pot pie filling are very similar to the dinner version, but with a few twists.

    A 10-inch cast iron skillet goes over medium heat. Then you're going to cook a pound of chicken sausage, the brand of your choice, until it's just done. Then add three tablespoons of butter. Melt it, add three ounces of all-purpose flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes. 1 Pound Chicken Sausage
3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
3 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
    Then, moisture. One and a half cups of low-sodium chicken broth, and two cups of whole milk. Reduce the heat, and simmer for two minutes until thick. 1½ Cups Chicken Broth +
2 Cups Whole Milk
    Then kill the heat completely, and add one and a half teaspoons of kosher salt, half a teaspoon of black pepper, and one and a half teaspoons of fresh sage, chopped. Then add five cups of cooked, shredded chicken meat. That's about one and a quarter pounds, and you can get that chicken, well, wherever you want to get it. 1½ tsp. Kosher Salt +
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1½ tsp. Fresh Sage, Chopped
5 Cups Rotisserie Chicken

    Stir to combine, and park while you make the biscuits. That's right, I said biscuits. Cheddary, cheesy biscuits.

    Into a large mixing bowl goes two teaspoons of baking powder, and half a teaspoon of baking soda. One teaspoon each of fresh thyme and sage. One quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, just to, you know, kick it up a notch. Then of course, you've got a teaspoon of kosher salt, for seasoning. As for the flour, we will reach for 12 ounces of all-purpose. Nothing special about that. Right in. And also, four ounces each of extra sharp white cheddar cheese, and unsalted butter, frozen, and run through the shredding disc of your favorite food processor. Now, mix that to combine. 2 tsp. Baking Powder +
½ tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Fresh Thyme +
1 tsp. Fresh Sage
¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
12 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
4 Ounces Each Extra Sharp
    Cheddar Cheese +
    Unsalted Butter
   And then pour in seven ounces of low-fat buttermilk. Stir until it turns into a dough, and then knead that dough about 30 seconds, until it just comes together enough to roll out into a half-inch sheet. 7 Ounces Low-Fat Buttermilk

    Now this we are going to cut into nine three-inch biscuits, so I kind of like to plot out how many I can get on the first roll. There we go. And then cut by just pushing straight down and then twisting. Now once you get as many as you can, just keep re-rolling and cutting until you have got at least nine biscuits.
Arrange said biscuits in a circle around the edge of the pan, and make sure you save one for the middle.

    [at the oven] Park in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, and during this time, you will not open the door because biscuits need peace and quiet and heat to do their buffing, and yeah, it's a technical term, buffing.

400 Degrees

    [at the table with prepared dish] The way I look at it, chicken biscuits are one of the country's most popular breakfast items. This is the same thing, only more so.
    Well, I hope that we've made some headway into eradicating this [frozen chicken pot pie] from your kitchen and from your memory banks. [camera zooms out, to reveal the fighting knights, eating with AB] The Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and medieval Englishmen have something in common with modern Americans. We've all got a taste for chicken pot pie and for Good Eats. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 11/30/2011