A favorite winter comfort in our house is that classic bistro standard, French Onion Soup Gratinée (28 October 2014: Mastering the Art of French Onion Soup Gratinéed). Since it's at its best made with a rich homemade broth, making it is a two day process.
But taking that extra step is so worth it, for its side benefit is that there's always boiled beef and extra broth left over for lovely things like another of our favorite winter comforts, pot pie.
Last week, onion soup was on the menu, with about 1½ pints of nicely concentrated broth and about a pound of lean boiled beef shank meat leftover. And over the weekend, they made a very handsome pot pie supper.
Individual Beef Pot Pies
I rarely make this in more than two servings, and usually bake it as directed here in individual pot pie dishes, but if you don't have those, it bakes just as well in a single larger dish (like an 8-inch soufflé or 10-inch deep oval gratin). This past weekend was a busy one, and there was a lot of beef and broth leftover, so I doubled this recipe and baked it in one 2-quart casserole. The leftovers were very welcome after a long Sunday.
Leftover pot pie reheats best in a conventional oven. Let it come to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350° F., and moisten the empty side of the dish with a little beef broth, then cover only the empty side with foil, leaving the pastry uncovered (this helps keep the remains on the emptied side from burning on the dish). Bake it until the filling is bubbly all the way through and registers at least 165 degrees on a cooking thermometer.
12-14 ounces cooked beef
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, peeled, and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium ribs celery, washed, strung and diced
½ cup frozen small green peas
2 medium red-skinned or gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-2½ cups beef broth
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Recipe Basic Pastry (recipe follows) or 1 sheet roll out pie crust or 1 sheet puff pastry
1 large egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water (optional)
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Trim the meat and cut it into cubes a little less than 1 inch. Set it aside.
2. Put the butter (oil, if using), and onion in a heavy-bottomed deep lidded skillet or braising pan over medium heat. Sauté, stirring often, until softened but not colored, about 3-4 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and sauté until softened and beginning to color, about 3-4 minutes. Add the peas and cook, stirring, until they're thawed. Add the potatoes and stir until hot.
3. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir until it's evenly coating them. Slowly stir in 2 cups of the broth. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until thick, stirring often, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the herbs and beef to the pan. If the gravy doesn't completely cover the beef, stir in a little more broth. Season well with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. Bring it back to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just cooked through, about 12-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and transfer the filling to 2 individual pot pie dishes, 10-ounce ramekins, or 8-inch deep gratin dishes.
5. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut rounds from it a little larger than the dishes. Use a small decorative cutter to cut out center of each round or slash it with a sharp knife in 2-3 places. Place each round over the filling. I cut the excess pastry into decorative shapes with the same small cutter, brush their bottoms with cold water, and arrange them around the edges to dress it up. For a glossy finish to the pastry, you may brush it with egg white and water solution, although I rarely do that.
6. Put the dishes, not touching, on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly at the center, about 30-35 minutes. Let them rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
To make this pastry in a food processor, chill the metal blade and fit it into the work bowl. Add the flour and salt and pulse to mix, then add the fat and pulse until it resembles coarse meal with lumps the size of small peas. Add 2 tablespoons of water and pulse until it's beginning to clump, then add water by teaspoons until it's just holding together. Turn out and proceed with step 2.
Makes enough to make 1 9-10-inch pie shell or to top 2 individual potpies
5 ounces (about 1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 rounded tablespoon chilled lard or shortening, cut into bits
4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into bits
3-5 tablespoons ice water
1. Sift or whisk together the flour and salt. Cut in the fats with pastry blender or fork until flour resembles coarse meal with lumps no larger than small peas. Stir in 2 tablespoons of ice water and work it in. Continue adding water by teaspoonfuls as needed until the dough is holding together but not wet.
2. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Using the wrap to gather it, press the dough into a ball, then press into a 1-inch thick flat disk, and wrap it well. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or for up to 2 days. Let it come almost to room temperature before rolling it out.