December 7, 2011

Fowler's Pie (Recipe)

I know we're well into December now (a by-product of time spent Christmas shopping and preparing for class in the Spring), but today's recipe involves Thanksgiving leftovers-kind of.  For the first time ever, I made stock with the turkey carcass.  It was a relatively simple process.  I placed the entire carcass in a large pot along with some chopped carrot and onion, a whole head of garlic that I peeled and crushed, a tablespoon or so of sage, half that amount of black pepper, and a carton of vegetable broth.  I added enough water to make sure the liquid covered the bird, brought the whole thing to a simmer, and covered.  I let the stuff cook for about five hours, then took it off of the stove and strained it.  The liquid had changed from murky and brown-the color of vegetable broth-to a bright straw yellow, and it definitely still smelled like Thanksgiving.  I disposed of the solids and put the fruit of my labors into the fridge to chill.

Homemade Turkey Stock

The next day my stock had gone from liquid to solid.  The gelatin from the turkey bones and fat had congealed, and the whole thing now looked like a gravy flavored Jell-O.  So far so good.  The only question was what to do with it.  Wife already makes the best chicken noodle soup, and as with the initial turkey cookery, I didn't want to trespass on her turf.  However, Mother-in-Law had sort of perma-loaned us her ramekins, which gave me the perfect idea-pot pie!  I love pot pie, even the seventy cent ones with the weird chicken that doesn't really taste or feel like a food.  Something about breaking through that buttery, flaky crust into a hearty stew is really satisfying, even in its lesser forms.  I was ready to rock out some dough when Wife pointed out a sobering fact.  We were being overrun by potatoes.  We'd just bought a hefty bag of them when Father-in-Law donated some to us.  Then we got food from the church, and they decided to give us potatoes as well.  All told, we had almost twenty-five pounds of tubers.  "Make Shepherd's Pie," she suggested.

"It's not a Shepherd's Pie without a sheep!" I retorted.

"Fine, Fowler's Pie.  Whatever."  Whatever indeed.  Still, the potato problem needed to be dealt with.  I decided to take this challenge on.  The first thing I did was chop up an onion and two carrots, and get them sweating in about a quarter of a stick of butter.  While they cooked, I got my cast iron up to medium high, and began to cook four boneless, skinless chicken breasts (rubbed with salt and pepper) in a tablespoon of oil.   Although it is always best to work with the freshest ingredients, I knew that the stock I made was carrying a lot of flavor, so I used up some frozen bulk chicken.  Cook the bird for several minutes on each side, until it has a nice char, and then dice it into bite sized cubes.  You'll want the meat to be mostly cooked through, but since it will continue to cook in the stew a little bit of pink is OK, and perhaps preferable.  You certainly don't want it to dry out.  Add the chicken, two cups of frozen peas, and whatever other vegetables you want (I used a tablespoon of minced garlic) to the carrots and onions, and four cups of turkey stock.  This part of the process was the biggest surprise to me.  I had a box of my favorite chicken broth at the ready to thin the mixture out, but as soon as the stock began to heat it returned to liquid form.  The smell was wonderful.  I added a bit more sage and black pepper, and after bringing it to a boil I put it on simmer while I completed the next step, which was to make mashed potatoes. 

I'm not going to go into making mashed potatoes-I feel I can safely assume that everyone who reads this already knows how, and if I am wrong there is always Google-but one thing I will say is that because this is going to be a crust, fancy them up a bit.  You'll want to go ahead and add salt and pepper now (white pepper would be great if you have it,) and I also used Parmesan cheese and sour cream.  Feel free to use your imagination.  Recipes are only mannequins, and it is the cook's job to dress them up as they best see fit. 

The Stew....
...and it's Crust.

Once your potatoes are ready, check on the stew.  It should be reducing some, but if not you'll need to add some cornstarch to give it a rich thickness and differentiate it from soup.  Be sure to temper it-there is nothing worse in this kind of a dish than adding cornstarch to an entire pot and having it clump up.  To temper, remove a cup of the liquid to a separate vessel (even just the measuring cup itself,) and add your cornstarch to it.  Once it has been fully dissolved, stir that liquid back into the rest of the stew.  Once it has cooked to the desired consistency, pour it into medium-sized roasting pan and spoon the mashed potatoes over the top.  The hard part is over.  Throw it into a 425 degree oven for half an hour or until the top begins to brown and the stew is trying to bubble up over the crust.  The end result is simple, hearty, and a good alternative to the traditional Shepherd's Pie. 
The Finished Product

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