An Accidental Pot-Pie
Our recent cold snap in the Piedmont has guided me back to my roots in search of dependable comfort food. Here in the South, you can’t go wrong with a slow-cooked pork shoulder or a pot-pie.
Pork has been a celebrated part of North Carolina’s history for centuries. During the early settlement of the state, pigs were a staple on the farm because they were easier and more cost-effective to raise than cattle.
The history of the pot-pie harkens back to many forms of meat pastries that originated across Europe. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first literary reference to the pot-pie is found in a cookbook called Court and Country Cook, which was translated from French into English in 1702. References to savory pie, or “pyes,” can be found as early as the 1300s. Early American settlers prepared the pot-pie as a means of economy by using meat stores and vegetables, usually root vegetables, which were available during the winter months.
Since the key ingredients are available nearly year-round, I make chicken pot-pie regularly with help from my significant other, who makes the crust. He's the pastry guy in the family and makes pie crusts and biscuits so delicious they'll make you want to slap your mama.
With a large quantity of leftover carnitas from the pork shoulder I cooked in the slow cooker the day before, I wanted to incorporate the leftovers into a comfort food recipe. We have been limiting our carb intake recently and have been experimenting with alternative flours so we can continue to prepare baked goods that we really love. We aren’t fans of processed foods and make most things from scratch. We also regularly shop at the farmer’s market to buy vegetables that are in season and meat from our local farmers. I searched for a way to make a healthy crust for this pot-pie and we were really pleased with the outcome from this almond and whole-wheat flour blend. The nutty, buttery richness of this crust stands in perfect unity with the hearty filling. Instead of using my usual chicken broth for the liquid in the filling, I decided to use the flavorful rich broth that was left with the pork in the slow cooker. This, in combination with the amazing crust discovery, resulted in the best pot-pie in my cooking history.
You can easily substitute cooked shredded chicken and chicken broth for the pork, but I encourage you to save yourself some time and money by slow cooking this pork shoulder, which should give you several meals for the week. Don’t let the ingredient list frighten you—this is an easy meal to make. Put on some music and enjoy your time in the kitchen. I also recommend buying your pork from a local farmer for many reasons, the least of which is the taste difference between local and commercially produced meat. You can thank me later.
Begin by preparing Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas from the Kitchn. I halve the recipe and use a 3 to 3-1/2 pound cut of meat. You could also slow cook this in a Dutch oven at 325 degrees for 2 to 4 hours. It’s done when the meat falls off the bone easily. You’ll know.
Pork Carnitas Pot-Pie
Use leftover pork carnitas in this pot-pie.
For the crust: The result of combining the flours and butter for this crust is a slightly nutty and deliciously buttery, hearty topping for the pie. You can use either a food processor or pastry blender.
For the filling: Make sure your vegetables are chopped similarly to ensure even cooking. Feel free to substitute your favorites. I usually use whatever I have in the refrigerator: leeks, turnips, beets, rutabaga, carrots, peas, fennel, potatoes, or sweet potatoes. Almost anything goes.
3/4 cup almond flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
3-1/2 tablespoons ice cold water
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
1 large parsnip or 2 smaller ones, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, rinsed, unpeeled, and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped
Several sprigs fresh thyme, stripped of leaves
3 tablespoon flour
1-1/2 cups pork carnitas broth, warmed
1/3 cup half and half
2 to 3 cups shredded pork
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
Prepare the crust: Mix dry ingredients then cut in butter using a pastry blender. Keep working the butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. You can see the flour adhere to the little balls of butter. Add COLD water, 1 tablespoon at a time and work it in until the dough comes together. (Alternatively, you can use a food processor here to achieve the same result. Mine is broken, so I made it the old fashioned way. ) You may want to ditch the pastry blender and use your hands to work it at this point, just until you can get it to come together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.
Prepare the filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet on the stove. Add onion and shallot and sauté until onion begins to become translucent. Add parsnips, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and thyme. Sauté about 10 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. If vegetables stick to the pan, add another pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil to moisten.
Here’s where you’re going to do something that many cooks are afraid to try: you’re going to make a roux that eventually becomes a delicious “gravy.” Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to combine, cooking 4 to 5 minutes. This incorporates the flour so your gravy doesn’t taste pasty. Slowly pour the warmed broth over the vegetables a little at a time while stirring to incorporate. Warming the broth first helps to ensure a smoother gravy instead of one with flour lumps. The flour will begin soaking up the broth immediately and you’ll notice the gravy getting thicker. Let simmer for 3 minutes or so. This is the great thing about cooking instead of baking: if you think it’s too thick for pot-pie consistency, add more broth a little at a time. If it’s too thin, just let it cook a bit longer to reduce. This is the technique for any gravy. It’s that simple. When you’re satisfied with the consistency, add half and half, pork, salt and pepper; stir to incorporate.
Pour mixture into a greased deep-dish pie plate. Remove the crust ball from the refrigerator and place it on a piece of parchment paper dusted with a very small amount of wheat flour. Roll out the dough to fit over your filling. Top pie plate with the crust round and cut an “X” in the middle to let steam escape. Optional, but recommended: brush the crust with an egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bubbly.
Makes one pot-pie.
Joanne Joy is a Charlotte native and local writer currently working on a project to document and preserve the cultural histories behind family recipes in the Carolinas. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @_joannejoy.