I don’t know what’s scarier about this pie from Amelia Simmons (American Cookery, 1796), the butter content or the fact that it’s baked with whole chickens inside:
“Pick and clean six chickens, (without scalding) take out their inwards and wash the birds while whole, then joint the birds, salt and pepper the pieces and inwards. Roll one inch thick paste … and cover a deep dish … put thereto a layer of chickens and a layer of thin slices of butter, till the chickens and one and a half pound butter are expended, which cover with a thick paste; bake one and a half hour.”
Chickens were smaller in colonial times, in case you were wondering how Simmons fit six chickens in one pie (I’m guessing it was also a very big pie). The idea of putting whole birds in pastry is also not as strange as it might seem — in the pre-refrigeration age, meats were often baked in pies to preserve them longer.
I knew my family would never go for a pie full of chicken bones and that much butter, so I made a recipe from the Kings Arms Tavern at Colonial Williamsburg that had de-boned meat and just one stick of butter. Even this was too rich for our tastes. So I tried again, loosely following the same recipe but halving the butter and mixing in an egg yolk to thicken the sauce a bit. The pie was slightly drier, but still delicious.
Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook
For the chicken and stock:
1 3-pound broiler-fryer chicken (I used a heritage chicken)
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
For the filling:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 10-ounce package frozen cubed carrots and peas, thawed
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 medium russet potato, diced and briefly boiled
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
For assembling the pies:
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
pie pastry (recipe follows)
1. Place the chicken in a large covered soup pot. Add celery, onion, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Skim the broth. Remove the chicken and cool.
2. When the chicken has cooled, remove skin, bones, and gristle and cut into large pieces. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until well blended and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and simmer a few minutes, until slightly thickened. Whisk a little of the sauce with the beaten egg in a small bowl, then add that mixture back to the sauce, blending well and cooking briefly.
4. In a large bowl, combine the carrots and peas, remaining 2 celery ribs, and potatoes. Add the chicken pieces and sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir.
5. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter six 12-ounce ramekins (I used two 12-ounce soufflé ramekins and one quart-size soufflé dish.) Divide the chicken mixture evenly among the dishes. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the milk until blended. Roll out the pastry dough 1/8-inch thick. (The rolling job below is by my seven-year-old — this dough is very easy to work with.)
Cut out circles slightly larger than the ramekins, then place on top of the filling, pressing the edges to the sides of the dishes. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a small hole in the center of each dish to allow steam to escape. Prick the pastry with a fork. Brush the dough with the beaten egg mixture, and bake until crusts are golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 35-40 minutes. Serve hot.
Adapted slightly from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening or lard
1/3 cup ice water, or more as needed
1. Into a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt. Add the butter and shortening and cut into small pieces with two knives or a pastry cutter.
2. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the water. Mix quickly with a fork to form a soft dough. Add another 1-2 tablespoons cold water if the dough looks dry. Turn out onto a floured surface and work gently into a rough ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (The dough can be made up to a day in advance.)