Even though family-style serving certainly has its place, which we've been known to do, I happen to have a special place in my heart for preparing recipes that result in each person getting their own individual casserole or ramekin-type container. Tonight's meal is often served in one big dish, but this time when we made Chicken Potpie, we made it individual-style!
For the creamy filling, we started with diced onion and carrot softened in a few knobs of butter - I know it may seem like a fair amount of butter for just a bit of vegetables, but we do stretch this into six servings and you need that fat in the pan to absorb the flour we're about to add. Once the flour goes in, you'll want to stick right next to the pot, stirring, for longer than you think. While a minute or two is usually good enough to cook out the raw pasty taste of the flour, here we're looking for a little development of flavor - it has gone long enough when you can smell a nuttiness from the pot, along with the mixture taking on a very pale golden hue.
Making sure you've got your whisk handy, plenty of broth is gradually added in (using a whisk works out any lumpy bits that may form) and once it comes up to a full bubble, activating the thickening power of the flour, the sauce is turned down to sit and simmer, giving us time to shred the chicken! The chicken is then stirred in, along with peas an a healthy handful of peas and a bit of fresh thyme.
Now this next step just might have you scratching your head and wondering "Huh? Why do I need to bother with this?". I followed along with the original directions and they have you divide the filling between the ramekins, which isn't unusual, but then you're instructed to place them into the refrigerator to quickly bring the filling to room temperature. Because they are being topped with puff pastry, which is best kept cold, I can see the reasoning because by the time you've got the last ramekin covered, the steaming hot filling would have started to melt the delicate butter in the first ramekin. To get the best "puff" on the pastry, the butter needs to be cold - which is why after the fillings have been topped off, the assembled pots go back into the refrigerator once more to chill down the pastry. Yes, its fairly fussy, but it comes from a Martha publication, so don't be too surprised!
The ramekins are then baked until the fillings are once again hot and bubbly, and the pastry on top has puffed into a flaky, burnished topping. Jeff and I both quite enjoyed the filling - it was thick enough that it onto the spoon without running off, yet not too thin that it was soupy. Besides the salt and pepper, fresh thyme was the only added seasoning - I did wonder if the filling might end up being a touch bland, but we were glad we left well enough alone as we thought that potent herb brought just enough enhancement. This let the vegetables, creamy sauce and chicken all stand on equal legs underneath the buttery crust.
If this sounds like a dish you'd like to make, but don't want to mess with the individual portions, you can toss the entire filling into a favorite casserole dish (you'll need one that is holds about 2 quarts), then roll out the pastry sheet until it is roughly one inch wider than the top of the dish and set the entire sheet on top.