© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Making Pot Pies Better

Tourtiere is a savory, spiced meat pie, which both French- and English-speaking Canadians love to serve around the holidays.
Tourtiere is a savory, spiced meat pie, which both French- and English-speaking Canadians love to serve around the holidays.

A few weeks ago we were on the Eastern Shore when we had a local Tilghman Island treat: oyster pot pie. Now hold on!, I know some of you are saying, but if you haven't tried it, don't knock it. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino points out, there's a lot of directions to take the basic pot pie idea?

First let's talk about that oyster pot pie. Since shucked oysters in jars are available year-round, you can make this any time you feel a cold rainy weekend heading your way. The idea is identical to traditional chicken pot pie: a thick, creamy sauce loaded with carrots, celery, onions and peas all under a nice golden brown pastry crust. Your choice of proteins is where the fun starts. If you do go with oysters, they will plump up and lend their subtle seaside flavor to the dish. In addition, since they are usually packed in their own "liquor", you can pour it in and it will lend the sauce even deeper flavor.

A few weeks later my wife made the dish, and added some cut up mushrooms that fit right in. I suggested that a dollop or two of sherry wouldn't be out of place.

But if you want to explore the possibilities of variations on a theme, we'd be glad to give you some ideas.

We have nothing against using store-bought flaky pie crust. It's a good reliable, time-saving product. But try making your own crust. All you need are the most basic ingredients and a good food processor. We're talking about the classic pastry dough called "pâte brisée", a fine all-purpose crust, especially for wet fillings.

Flour, chilled butter cut into cubes and ice water are all you need. Blend flour and butter in a bowl by hand, then pop it into your Cuisinart. Pulse blend and slowly add some ice water, a little splash at a time. When the dough starts to form into little pea sized balls, you're done. Take it out, form a flattened ball, wrap it up and chill it.

For extra quality, use fresh lard for the very best flaky crust you can make.

For some reason there is an adamant disagreement regarding the question of how many crusts; one or two? I say it's nobody's business but your own, so if you really like crust like I do, then pop one into the bottom of your pie tin. Otherwise, just go with the top.

Now for some other variations. Chicken is your standard protein, but you can get creative. Turkey bits are a natural, and just the thing a few days after Thanksgiving. If oysters are good, then lobster would be exceptional. If you are wondering about fish, I would nominate cod. It is a very firm, mildly flavored fish that stays in chunks while cooking.

If you want to try something with meats, I would say ham, beef steak or lamb would be fine, provided you cut up the meat into small bite-sized chunks. You can also adjust the seasonings to go with the heavier meats. Cumin, garlic, rosemary, thyme and lots of black pepper would work well.

When it comes to other vegetables you can try, I would start with the root veggies. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips are all nice choices. As I mentioned before, mushrooms in all their varieties will work well.

You can easily make vegetarian pot pies, especially if you double down on the veggies. Cut up summer squash would be welcome. Shredded spinach or kale would add color, texture and flavor. Blanch some Brussels sprouts that you've cut in half, and toss them into your mixture. Try the same thing with fresh green beans or asparagus. And what about sweet little cherry tomatoes? That would be something.

And for an extra special treat, little cubes of the Indian "paneer" cheese would be amazing, especially with the spinach.

So whatever you want to tuck under that flaky crust, the world is your oyster, so to speak. Get creative and have fun.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.