A Delicious Stove Top to Oven “Pot Pie”
In our household, the answer has always been to make a pot pie, especially with a delicious holiday turkey or ham when there might not be enough meat to serve by itself, with just simple vegetables on the side. By combining the leftover meat with potatoes, fresh vegetables, a creamy sauce and baking it in a pastry, the result can be delicious – sometimes better than the original meal!
But making a fresh pastry for baking can be time consuming – and to be honest, pastries and pies have never been one of my kitchen specialties. Through the years my mother and I came up with our own “easy” version of the pot pie, leaving out the bottom crust to keep it lighter and just topping it with broken-up pieces of a ready-made pastry crust. It might sound a little strange but I guarantee the result is delicious. With the right pan you can do it all in one skillet that goes from range top to oven, too!
Step 1: Make the Bechamel Sauce
The “glue” that holds my Skillet Pot Pie together
Bechamel is a classic white sauce, one of the basics of French cooking that you will also find in many (especially Northern) Italian recipes. It is traditionally a combination of butter, flour and milk that is thickened and may be flavored gently with other elements such as onion, cloves and bay leaves.
For my Bechamel, I follow a fairly standard recipe from the Joy of Cooking. This is certainly a classic cookbook which every home chef should have on hand. I will summarize my standard method of sauce preparation as follows:
Preheat oven to 350F and warm 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan on the stovetop. Over low heat in another saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the butter and stir until well combined – but do not brown!
Slowly whisk the milk into the butter/flour mixture and keep cooking until thoroughly combined. Then pour mixture into a small baking dish or casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Add 1 small onion (or a quarter of a larger one), 2 whole cloves, and then cook, covered, in the oven for about 20 minutes until thickened. Keep the sauce warm and covered until ready to use.
Step 2: Assemble the Pot Pie ingredients
Get everything ready before you start to cook!
Because this recipe requires the steady addition of layers of ingredients, from hard vegetables to pre-cooked meat, it’s important to do all your chopping and dicing before you start cooking – that is, follow “mise en place” (everything in place) technique. You can do this once the Bechamel sauce is in the oven, as you should then have everything ready to go by the time the sauce is done.
The vegetables included in your Skillet “Pot Pie” can be varied depending on your tastes, what kind of meat you are using and what’s fresh at the market. For instance, for a turkey or chicken pie, you might want to include mushrooms instead of the zucchini I used with the ham. Tender parsnips could also be included if you like – just be sure to stage the cooking time to start with the vegetables that need the longest cooking time. Also try to keep the vegetables diced to a consistent size for a pleasing final appearance.
For my ham pot pie, I actually used fat trimmed off the whole ham to saute the vegetables, and only added a little olive oil as needed to prevent sticking to my skillet. You can use whatever oil or fat you prefer, but try to match it with the protein you are cooking. For instance, if you roasted a whole turkey and saved the pan drippings, including any fat that rose to the top, use some of that fat mixed in with your vegetable or olive oil for a richer flavor.
Ingredient list for Skillet “Pot Pie”:
2-3 tablespoons oil or cooking fat (olive or vegetable oil, lard, etc.)
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 zucchini or summer squash, diced
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 portion Bechamel sauce, as prepared above (approximately 1 cup)
1 frozen 9″ pie-crust
2 cups cooked meat, diced or shredded (chicken, turkey or ham)
Salt and freshly-ground pepper.
Go veggie if you want!
You can leave out the meat entirely for a vegetarian meal – just add more variety of vegetables such as mushrooms, corn or lima beans.
Step 3: Get cooking!
Start it on the stove, then finish it in the oven
1. Preheat oven to 375F (it should have already been at 350 for making the Bechamel sauce). Take pie crust out of the freezer and allow to partially thaw, then break it up into smaller pieces to use as the pie topping.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil or fat in a skillet pan that is safe to take from the range top to the oven. Add the carrots and onions and cook oven medium-low heat until the onions start to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Next, add the diced potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown (10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the softer vegetables (zucchini, peas) and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until all vegetables are beginning to turn tender but not mushy – 10-15 minutes. Most importantly make sure the potatoes are near fork-tender but not completely cooked, and add a little more cooking oil as needed if things are beginning to stick to the pan.
5. Add the diced meat and parsley, and toss with the vegetables to warm through.
6. Combine the prepared Bechamel sauce with the meat and vegetables and stir well. Taste and adjust salt and pepper once more.
7. Turn off the heat on the stove. Top the skillet contents with the broken-up pie shell crust. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the pastry topping is golden brown – about 15-20 minutes.
8. Dinner is served! The pie should feed 4-6 people (stretch the meal by serving with a fresh green salad on the side.)