Story of a Dish: Chicken Pot Pie
CHEF: PAUL BAZZINI
RESTAURANT: HEARTH & TAP
Paul Bazzini has presented himself and his staff with a sizeable challenge. As executive chef of Hearth & Tap in Montvale, he’s promised his customers that no entrée or special will be priced above $25—ever. He makes good on that promise, he says, by maximizing the flavor of stellar yet humble ingredients with precise, classic cooking techniques.
“I firmly believe that you can eat really well and not have to spend a fortune,” Bazzini says. “I think that really good food should be affordable—it should be clean, real, chef-driven and as organic and local as possible. That’s what we’re building here.” He also believes that home cooks can improve the quality of their food by using that same formula: buying great ingredients and mastering a few basic cooking techniques.
To put the humble chicken pot pie on par with fine cuisine, the choice and preparation of each ingredient must build toward a highly flavorful, perfectly textured dish. “Everything should have a purpose,” Bazzini says. “It creates discipline. To know when to stop is a very strong skill to have with cooking.”
Proper technique is essential to building layers of flavor, which add depth and complexity to the dish. The filling begins with a well-dried three-and-a-half-pound chicken. Drying ensures that the chicken roasts rather than steams, and the specified size means that the breast and leg meat will finish cooking at the same time.
The chicken is rubbed with butter to keep the meat moist and produce a crisp, golden skin. It is seasoned with salt and pepper plus ground fennel seed, which adds a hint of anise. The chicken is stuffed with fresh thyme, lemon, bay leaves and black garlic—a fermented garlic with flavor notes of balsamic and chocolate—and roasted at a high heat until golden brown.
Once it has cooled, the meat is pulled (rather than sliced) off the bone. To create variety in texture and flavor, each pie contains chunks of breast, pieces of dark meat, and bits of the flavorful backbone meat. The buttery pan drippings are combined with chicken fat to make a flavorful foundation for the velouté—the sauce that holds the filling together.
The root vegetables, onions and herbs in the filling vary from season to season. Added interest and texture come from slicing the vegetables with a rough, triangular bias cut, rather than a perfect, tiny square (known as a brunoise). “It shouldn’t look like it came from a factory,” Bazzini says. “It should look like someone made this. Every piece isn’t going to be perfect, nor should it be.”
The vegetables are cooked over moderate heat in a combination of olive oil and butter. The goal is to cook the vegetables in their own liquid, which eventually evaporates and concentrates the flavor. It is important not to let the vegetables brown, Bazzini says, because the caramelization will overpower the delicate velouté and throw the dish out of balance.
Each individual pot pie is topped with a puff-pastry crust that is brushed with egg white. If you are using store-bought puff pastry, Bazzini suggests covering it with a tea towel or cheesecloth while defrosting. (Covering it in plastic wrap will make the dough mushy.) Stretching the dough a bit will aid in the puffing and flakiness of the baked crust. At Hearth & Tap, the pies are baked in the convection oven and then finished in the wood oven to brown the crust and add a hint of smoke and char.
All of this attention to texture and flavor helps overcome customers’ association with the bland, soggy frozen pot pies of their childhood. “You are taking all these preconceived ideas—these bad memories of what people think it is—and you are reeducating them,” Bazzini says. “You convince them and you win them over. That’s an even bigger joy because you’ve eradicated a bad food memory and replaced it with a really good food memory.”
Hearth & Tap Co.
125 N. Kinderkamack Road, Montvale