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A pot pie may be considered one of the best American comfort foods. Made with leftover poultry or beef, chopped vegetables, and occasionally a gravy or mushroom soup, the pie may be enclosed in two crusts or might merely have a top crust. There is a debate regarding the double crust issue, the type of pastry dough that should be used, and cooking methods. Yet the most traditional pot pie, as per commercial translation, is a double crusted pot pie marketed by companies like Swanson’s or Marie Callender's.
Food historians suggest that the crust of the pot pie was originally not eaten. A pot pie could be cooked in iron pans, but might pick up a metallic taste. The crust layer, especially the bottom and sides protected the ingredients of the pie from tasting like the cast iron pans in which it was normally made. In this sense the pot pie was originally considered a cooking method rather than an actual type of pie.
Recipes for pot pie cooking methods date back to the Middle Ages in Europe, and were brought to the US with the first European immigrants. The method existed but the name, pot pie, did not; the first recipes specifically called pot pies are those in the 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife. Recipes from the 1845 The New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book, suggest only a top crust.
Initially, pot pies were cooked over a fire, not resulting in the browned crusty taste of the modern version. Pastry crust remains variable. Some modern pot pie recipes top the pie with a biscuit dough, much like a cobbler, while others insist on a rolled out pastry crust. When cooked indirectly over fire, pot pies had a more steamed flexible crust than do modern versions cooked in ovens.
In the 1950s, Swanson’s first manufactured the modern frozen pot pie, made in an aluminum tin. This was a single serving as opposed to the large pie made in the cooking pot to serve an entire family. Today’s commercial versions can be cooked in the microwave, greatly shortening the cooking time, and new boxes are able to crisp the crust even in the microwave.
If you plan to serve a whole family, cooking your own pot pie is easily accomplished, and many cookbook and Internet recipes will show you how. To make a large enough pot pie, you can use a cast iron pan, any oven safe pan, or a deep pie dish. You will cut down on calories by omitting the bottom crust, but you also run the risk of overcooking the ingredients and drying them out.
Many Southern recipes lean toward topping the pot pie with a biscuit crust. Northern recipes in the US are more likely to use pastry. In modern versions, attention should be paid to providing a good tasting crust, as it is no longer considered a throwaway feature of the pot pie.
Chicken pot pie is one of the great cookery inventions, and one of my favorite dishes.
It can be extremely time consuming to make, but the results are so worth it. For me, the hardest part is to get the brothy part of the filling to the right consistency. It doesn't need to be too runny or too thick. It should be, rather, like a cream soup. But that can be tricky to accomplish, without actually using a can of cream of chicken soup.
However, when it is done right, chicken pot pie (or turkey or beef pot pie) is a great, old-fashioned meal.
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