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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Turkey Pot Pie

I used to serve as a student minister in a church that had monthly turkey pot pies throughout the summer. It was in a picturesque region of central Maine, in the midst of popular campgrounds, and notices were posted at all of them of each upcoming supper. A big sign went in front of the church with the date of the next one.

These were not bigger versions of Swanson's pot pies, pallid little things that they are, with pathetic diced carrots and potato in an insipid sauce. And they weren't Mrs. Tweedie's chicken pies, with some old laying hen stewed into stringy gravy. These were properly roasted turkeys, real gravy, and no apologetic vegetables, in a truly crusty homemade crust. Big bowls of mashed potatoes, turnip, carrot and what ever garden vegetable was handy were served on the tables, with additional gravy and lots of fluffy bread rolls. Pie was also on the dessert menu, too, with coffee and tea. It was not a low-fat, low-calorie meal. It was the apex of church suppers. Everything else is just trying to reach that degree of near-perfection. I suspect that the heavenly banquet will include St. Martin's turkey pot pie menu.

This is a satisfying meal. It uses up a lot of turkey at once. It takes all afternoon, but there you go. It is definitely for a post-holiday weekend when there are extra hands to carve the rest of the meat, help make the gravy, and roll out the crust. One pie will serve six to eight people, depending on what there is for vegetables to go with it. We eat it over three days quite happily.

I recommend pot pie if you are serving a crowd of people who are expecting a turkeyish dinner experience, but you can't manage two large roast turkeys with all the goings-with. Roast the turkey, and strip the frame of the meat. One turkey will make at least two pies or more, depending on the size and type of turkey. Simmer the frame, giblets and neck, plus skin and strange bits into stock for the gravy. (If you have never made stock before: Put the bare turkey carcass along with the giblets, etc. into a large stockpot. I sometimes have to cut apart the carcass with kitchen shears to get it to fit. Cover it with water, add a bay leaf or so, and other whole spices like peppercorns, just a little. You don't want stock overseasoned. Don't salt at this stage.)

Make gravy from the stock: Melt butter or chicken fat or lard or use olive oil, about two-four tablespoons, in a saucepan, and whisk in quickly at least two tablespoons of flour, making a smooth, not lumpy, paste. Don't get it too hot, or you will burn the flour. Then pour in, slowly, warm turkey stock, at least two cups, whisking all the time to keep it from lumping. I'd make a good four cups of gravy for the pie, and you will want extra for the mashed or baked potatoes you serve with it. Heat to a slow boil, and stir, stir, stir. If it doesn't thicken much, whisk a couple more tablespoons of flour into a half-cup of cold water, and add in a trickle, still stirring. If you use cornstarch instead, you won't need as much. The flour thickened gravy is more traditional, and most people like the taste best. I've substituted arrowroot for cornstarch, but it has a different flavour some people will notice. Season the gravy with freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of sage and summer savoury, and a wee bit of salt.

Make a double pie crust for each pie, using my standard crust recipe: or any kind you favour. Paula's at: is a good one if you don't like the shortening type crust. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust, then heap lots of turkey in. Don't stint.

Spoon gravy over the turkey until the turkey is well-covered. It will take a good two cups of gravy. I don't mix the turkey and gravy together and pour it in the pie shell, because the bottom crust should have a few minutes in a hot oven to crisp, and if the gravy is on top, the bottom crust won't be as soggy. Cover with the top crust, and crimp the edges, which I do by trimming the crusts along the pie plate rim, and then rolling the two crust edges in toward the center, just so it clears the flat rim. My mother always crimped against the rim with a fork, and while this looks nice, her pie fillings always bubbled out and made a caramelized mess in the bottom of the oven. Make sure to cut a good sized vent in the top. I make a cross with a sharp knife, then fold back the edges.

Start the pie at 425F, and after fifteen minutes, turn the temperature back to 375F and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is starting to brown a bit and the gravy is bubbling hot. Let it cool for twenty minutes - it won't get tepid if the kitchen is warm - and then slice it.

Serve with mashed, baked or boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, and more gravy.

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