Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Chicken Pot Pie

I have always loved the idea of chicken pot pie, but I have often been disappointed in the blandness of the many I have eaten as well as others I have made myself following various recipes. I did not want to make it spicy—just flavorful, and so I have been working on my own recipe, trying different things. Last night I was finally satisfied, so I can share this recipe with you.  I will explain in great detail and also offer up some shortcuts. Even with the shortcuts, it will be good—but not quite as good as the ones I made.


1 chicken (or 1 pound chicken breasts)
4 large carrots, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, washed and trimmed
1 onion, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
4 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
8 pearl onions
4 tablespoons butter
8 fresh button mushrooms
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup of milk, whole or skim
Coarse salt and coarse pepper
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 package frozen peas
2 Pillsbury unbaked piecrusts


Early in the day, place the chicken, carrots, celery, onion and parsnip in a large pot and pour in the chicken broth or stock. Add enough water (or more stock) to cover the chicken with liquid. (It should be submerged by perhaps an inch.) Cook on medium-high, skimming off any foam that might arise. In 45 minutes to an hour, the chicken should be cooked. Remove from the pot and allow to cool. Remove and reserve the carrots. Discard all the other vegetables, and filter the liquid (now a good, rich chicken stock) and reserve for use later.

While chicken is cooking, place the pearl onions in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and strain. Allow to cool; the skins can now be easily removed. Cut the onions in half (or quarters, if they are large) and sauté in 1 tablespoon of butter for a few minutes, turning them so each side gets browned a bit. When the butter is almost gone, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of the chicken stock (straight from the cooking pot is fine) and allow to simmer on a low flame until the onions are cooked. They will begin to fall apart—that is fine. Do not allow the onions to caramelize, and add more liquid if they are still a bit hard. 

Slice off the stems and peel off the outer layer of the mushroom caps. Do not rinse; just wipe them with a paper towel. Cut them into small chunks and sauté them in 1 tablespoon of butter. Add a tablespoon or two of stock as they cook. Set aside.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized casserole. As the butter melts, add the flour. (It is important that you have the same amount of butter and flour.) Stir, and as a roux forms, add the milk, ¼ cup at a time, whisking it in so the mixture forms a creamlike substance. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. When you have finished the milk, slowly incorporate 1½ cups of the hot chicken stock, ¼ cup at a time. Set aside. The mixture should be the thickness of light cream. Taste it— if needed, add more salt and pepper.

In a few tablespoons of water or stock, boil the frozen peas until they are warm. When the chicken is ready, take the white meat off the breast and the dark meat from the thighs. Skin it, and cut it into small cubes. (It is okay if it shreds). Add the chicken to the white sauce in the pot. Slice and dice the carrots that were cooked in the stock and add them to the white sauce. Add the sautéed onions and the mushroom to the white sauce, along with their juices. Add the cooked peas to the pot.

If using individual ramekins, fill them with the chicken mixture. Roll out the dough and cut circles large enough to cover the top of the ramekins. Place the dough circles over the ramekins and cut four slits into the piecrusts so that steam can escape while they cook. This step may wait (but do not refrigerate) until 30 minutes before you want to serve.  Preheat oven to 425º F. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crusts are golden brown. Allow to stand for five minutes before serving.

If baking in a 9″ pie shell, leave the chicken mixture in the pot until you are ready to bake. Preheat oven to 425º F. Line the pie dish with one of the crusts. Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Use 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed, instead of boiling a whole chicken. Dice four carrots. In a saucepan, combine chicken and carrots, add water to cover, and boil for 10–12 minutes, until they are cooked. Add frozen peas and boil another two minutes.  Remove from heat, drain and set aside. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, cook pearl onions in butter until soft and translucent. Add the diced mushrooms and 2 tablespoons of broth, and cook another few minutes. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Slowly stir in chicken, carrots, broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Then finish in the pie crusts, as above. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Oysters: a Very Personal Experience

Most people have a funny story to tell about their first introduction to oysters. Mine was long ago, when I was but 19, a lovely young thing commuting into Manhattan from the suburbs to start my career on Madison Avenue. I was invited to lunch at the famous “21.” Dressed in what we called a sheath in those days, with white gloves, a hat, and shoes and matching handbag, I wanted to impress my suitor. My goal was foiled when he ordered oysters for the two of us. (In those days a man often ordered for the woman without even asking what she liked or wanted.) Having never even seen an oyster, let alone eaten one, I had no idea what to do. I watched other tables, and I saw people swallowing the huge slimy creatures whole—so to avoid seeming unsophisticated, I tried the same method. Unfortunately the oyster stopped short somewhere in my throat and refused to go any farther. I had to quickly retire to the ladies’ room to get it to come back up and enable air to pass again. To avoid embarrassment I slipped out of the restaurant and never saw the gentleman again.

     I avoided oysters for the next ten years, until I was living in Paris, where oysters are served at many occasions. Trying to be adventurous, I would have one or two as my soon-to-be-husband and his family each ate a dozen and were then happy to oblige by finishing off mine. That was until they came to New York for our wedding. During a sightseeing tour of the city, we stopped at Rockefeller Center for lunch. They all ordered oysters and burst out laughing when they saw the huge mollusks on their plates. Never before had they had oysters that were so big, so fat and so tasteless. They tried to cut them with a knife but gave up. They were far more sympathetic to my aversion to oysters after that and hearing my “21” story.  

      Some years later, while living in Paris, I
was invited to dinner by the president of the ad agency where I worked. With his wife, he was entertaining the worldwide president of our organization (another American) at a very fancy Parisian restaurant. Much to my chagrin, our host ordered a “plateau d’huîtres,” which I recognized as being oysters. These were much smaller than the American creatures, so I forced myself to try one. Luckily it went down easily, and I was able to swallow at least six of them. “How wonderful to find Americans who appreciate oysters—Garcon, another platter, please,” he shouted. I noticed the desperation in the eyes of my fellow American when I translated this last phrase to him, and I realized that I was not alone in my misery. We each forced down another six oysters, while our hosts must each have devoured another couple of dozen.

     Since those early days I have learned to appreciate oysters and am happy that there are now many varieties found in the USA that are smaller, more refined and better tasting than the ones I once almost choked on at “21”.  In fact, some weeks ago, Jean Luis Dumonet (Executive chef of The Union Club) came up for lunch and brought us a fairly new breed of oysters called “Island Creek.” They are produced at a Boston oyster farm, whose mission is simply to “grow the world's finest oysters and have the best possible time doing it.” Well we had the best time eating them, and when Michel Jean tasted them he quickly switched to Island Creek so you can now enjoy them at Stissing House.

     While Island Creek offers a number of varieties aqua-farmed in the bay (most of which have won many blind oyster tastings), our favorite is the one they call “Island Creek Oysters.” These are often described as having a “distinct clean butter-and-brine taste, and being delightfully firm.” Duxbury Bay is a prime oyster-growing spot because it is shallow enough to permit a near-complete tidal exchange twice a day. At high tide there are 35 billion gallons of water in the bay, and at low tide, just 7 billion. There are 15- to 20 million oysters in there. There is an abundance of fresh plankton and cold water surging into the bay on each rising tide, which keeps the oysters firm and briny all year long. These conditions are similar to those near La Rochelle and the Île d'Oléron in western France, where Gillardeau produces their "spéciales," our favorite oysters in France. I am told that the “Gillardeau name is to oysters what Hermès is to neckties,” and all French oyster lovers prefer this most expensive breed, which is cultivated with enormously great care. 

In the United States oysters are often served with ketchup, cocktail sauce or hot sauce. These overpowering condiments are really a thing of the past - reserved for those fat tasteless kinds of oysters which once dominated the American market. When serving the new smaller oysters such as Island Creek or Gillardeau, thin slices of buttered rye bread and mignonette sauce (finely chopped shallots, cracked pepper and red wine vinegar) are the traditional accompaniment.  I have learned of late, that a mere drop of lemon juice is enough to cut the faint taste of ocean saltiness and bring out the flavors in the oyster. These smaller oysters are not to be sent whole sliding down your throat, but, on the contrary, are to be chewed with every bite releasing a burst of nutlike flavor and freshness from the mollusk.

Gerard maintains that the best wine to serve is, of course, French Chablis where the Chardonnay vines are cultivated in a cool climate in soil in which 50 million years ago lay massive oyster beds. The flinty crisp freshness of Chablis comes from the oyster shell minerals in this very special soil. An excellent marriage of flavors each enhancing the other. With the Island Creek oysters at Stissing House, Gerard selected the classic Chablis Champs Royau de chez William Fevre at $9 a glass or even better $ 35 a bottle.  Other suggestions – Muscadet-sur-lie from Loire Atlantique, Pouilly Fume (Sauvignon Blanc) from Loire Valley, Pinot Blanc from Alsace and of course - Champagne..

You can purchase Island Creel Oysters on line @


When I lived in Italy I learned to make this Italian version of an omelet. Its texture and more substantial ingredients make it more of a meal than the light and fluffy French dish. The idea is to use whatever you find in the fridge in any combination that appeals to you. It usually contains a vegetable or two (asparagus, zucchini, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, etc), an onion (yellow onion, shallots, scallions, leeks or chives) and a cheese (gruyere, cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, Swiss, cream cheese, etc) and perhaps a type of ham (prosciutto, bacon bits, or boiled ham in strips or small chunks) and / or sliced cooked potatoes. The proportions are not important; the ingredients must be precooked and slightly warm when used. It can be served hot or room temperature. This versatile dish can be baked in the oven in a pie plate or cooked on the stove in a non-stick frying pan and finished in the oven or under the broiler. It can be served in the pan (the easy way) or turned onto a dish (which is nicer looking but more difficult to do.) It can be made for 2-3 people with 4 eggs in an 8” pan, for four people with 5 eggs in a 10” or six people 6 eggs in a 12” pan.  The other evening I made the following for Gerard and me and served it with a green salad. It hit the spot.


4 large eggs, beaten
6 boiled potatoes (small Yukon golds) peeled and sliced
1-ounce of Gruyere Cheese grated
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch salt
1 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil (not extra virgin)
1/2 cup chopped roasted leeks
1/2 cup chopped prosciutto ham
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves


Preheat oven to broil setting. Beat the eggs add a tablespoon of cold water and season with salt and pepper. Heat the non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Add butter and oil to pan and melt. Add potatoes to pan, when warm and slightly golden add the leeks and 2 minutes later add the ham strips. Stir so ingredients are evenly spread out. Pour egg mixture into pan. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes slightly raising the sides and tipping the pan to allow egg to run to the bottom and cook. While cooking sprinkle the grated cheese onto the mixture. When the egg mixture has set on the bottom and begins to set up on top. Place pan into oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned and fluffy. Protecting your hands with pot holders, place a serving plate that is (at least as big or slightly larger than the pan) over the pan and turn the pan upside down allowing the fritatta to end up on the plate.  Cut into pie shaped portions and serve immediately.

Vol au Vent aux Escargots

We love escargots, which I learned to make many years ago in Paris when Gerard started gathering them in the Bois de Boulogne. Yes—this is a true story. Every time it rained, Gerard would go out the following morning and while walking the dogs, he would pick up a dozen or two live escargots and bring them home. I checked with Madame St. Ange (my cooking bible) and learned how to get them cleansed by feeding them lettuce until we had gathered enough of them and then giving them only white flour. When the flour came out of them as white as when it went in, it meant that all dirt and poisons they may have had inside were cleansed and they were ready to cook.

One spring we built a cage in the tiny backyard of our home in the 16th arrondissement, where we gave a series of dinner parties featuring escargots that impressed both our friends and family. One day we invited Gerard’s colleagues from the radio station where he worked for dinner, and the next day they spoke of the escargots from the Bois de Boulogne on their talk show. From that day on, hundreds of people started gathering the tiny creatures, and we could never again find enough for a meal.  So like everyone else, we learned to buy the escargots in cans with the shells and make the garlic butter ourselves. Last week I wanted to make escargots, but to my great shock, Adams did not have any more of the cans with shells and I had to buy the ones without shells. So I started a new adventure —this new recipe.

In the frozen-food section, I bought pastry shells that I have successfully used in many other recipes (shrimp, scallops, or mushrooms in a béchamel sauce also make very good fillings).
I followed the directions on the package to bake the pastry shells earlier in the day. I made the garlic butter and put it in the refrigerator. The following recipe was perfect for six people.

(Serves six)

¾ pound salted butter, softened, at room temperature
4 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
4 cloves finely chopped (not minced) garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
12 pastry shells (two boxes, Pepperidge Farm found at Marona’s)
2 cans escargots, each containing two dozen (found at Adams’)


Blend the softened butter with the shallots, garlic, parsley, and salt until the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout. (This can be done in a mixer or by hand.)  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Bake the pastry shells according to the package directions until the pastry is golden brown and well risen. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove the caps and hollow out the middle to make room for the snails and butter (to be added later). Set the shells aside. (This is easier to handle if you put the shells on a greased baking sheet and keep them on that sheet as they go in and out of the oven until they are ready to be served. They can be plated at the table or in the kitchen. )

Drain the contents of the escargot cans, leaving the snails in a colander to drain off the juices.
Remove excess liquid by wiping with paper towels.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Gently push two snails into each of the cooked vol-au-vent shells and cover with a thin layer of the garlic butter. Add one or two more snails and a thick layer of garlic butter. Replace the pastry caps and reheat the shells for three to five minutes. (You are looking for the butter to bubble.)  Serve two per dish immediately. Warm up any remaining snails and  extra butter in a small casserole dish and serve on the side for anyone who wants more.  

Braised Guinea Fowl

Last weekend Gerard and I gave our annual luncheon for our chef friends. They brought foie gras they had made and dozens of fresh oysters, which we had at the “aperitif,” after which we had my mother-in-law’s Vitello Tonnato—a very copious appetizer of slices of veal covered with a tuna fish sauce. I thought the meal should have just gone on to salad, cheese and dessert, but Gerard insisted I make a main course. There was too much food to add a meat or starch, so I settled on this recipe, which I had successfully made twice before. (I do not like to experiment when the chefs are coming!) Guinea fowl is very lean, and the three vegetables are all light and flavorful. Much to my great surprise, it was all consumed, and every plate was clean. The sauce was delicious, so I share this recipe with you.

12 servings (I had to use two Dutch ovens)


12 guinea fowl legs (I buy them by the dozen at

For the marinade:

2 bottles dry white wine
20 black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
4 carrots, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 onions, chopped
12 sprigs thyme
8 bay leaves
12 branches Italian parsley

For the braise:

The guinea fowl pieces listed above
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
16 carrots, peeled and cut in half horizontally— and, if thick, vertically as well.
8 small onions, peeled and halved
16 small leeks, white and light green parts only, very well washed.
1 quart chicken stock
Bouquet garni of several branches of thyme, parsley, bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the accompaniment:

16 small baby turnips, peeled and halved or quartered (if larger than an inch in diameter)
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon sea salt (preferably fleurs de sel de Guérande)


Early in the day, combine the marinade ingredients in a large noncorroding pan and marinate the fowl, turning from time to time, for about two hours. During that time boil the turnips until they are no longer hard. Then, in a pan, melt the butter and brown them. Keep them in the pan, and warm them up for a couple of minutes just before serving.

When the guinea fowl have marinated for two hours, pat them dry with a paper towel and brown until slightly golden in a bit of olive oil, over medium heat.  (If the heat is too high, the skins will stick). Take them out and set them aside. Add some more olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pot) and, once hot, brown the carrots and onions for two minutes and then add the leeks—all over medium heat. Stir. Strain the marinade, adding the liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the flame and place the guinea fowl on top of the vegetables. Add enough stock so that most of the vegetables are covered in liquid but the guinea fowl is above the liquid. It will cook from the moisture of the liquid, taking on the flavors of the vegetables. Cover the pot and place either in a 350º F oven or on the stove over a low flame for about 90 minutes.

I prepared the vegetables all in one pot and then divided them, the guinea fowl and the liquids into the two Dutch ovens, finishing them on the stove. To keep them warm while we had the aperitifs and appetizer, I put all of the cooked vegetables into a large roasting pan with half of the remaining liquid. I placed aluminum foil over the roasting pan and put it into a 200ºF oven to keep warm without further cooking. Just before serving I put the broiler on for about three minutes, which further browned the skin of the guinea fowl legs.

About a half hour before serving, I reduced the rest of the liquid to a rich, thick sauce by removing two-thirds of it and boiling down the one-third remaining in the pot. When it started to thicken, I then added, spoon by spoon, the rest of the cooking juices into the pot, allowing each to be absorbed before adding the next. Then I strained the sauce. To serve I placed the guinea fowl on one platter, spooning some sauce over each piece and serving the rest in a gravy boat on the side. The roasting pan vegetables were served apart, as were the turnips.