December 5, 2021

A la Carte: Three Columns Today: Perfect Pie Crust, Shepherd’s Pie & Ginger Chicken Hash

Lee White

Is it too soon to talk about pie?

I do not think so.

Thanksgiving is just under three weeks away. For many years I made the crusts from scratch. The best recipe was given to me by Deb Jensen, who lived in Stonington and had a couple of restaurants in the borough. But before that, she had a restaurant in New York City that, if I remember correctly, was called Pie in the Sky. After she left the city and opened her first restaurant in Connecticut, she continued to take her pies to New York  That’s how good her pies were.

Over the years, I have made others,  but hers are the best. Were mine as good as Deb’s? Not really, but it was really good. I have tried boxed and refrigerated ones. None were terribly good, but if the fillings were rich and decadent (think chocolate or pecan) or loaded with fresh fruit (apple pie served with vanilla ice cream or lemon meringue), the crust might an afterthought. I do have Oronoque pie crusts (in the freezer aisle of most supermarkets). In a pinch, they are tasty.

I have to admit, too, that Rich Swanson has taught me to make a pie crust with homemade buttermilk biscuits, a bit easier than Deb’s. It is yummy. But below is the Deb’s pie crust. I use butter and Crisco (c’mon, I have two recipes that use Crisco. It was good enough for our mothers’, it is okay for us once in a while). Next week we can talk about fruit pies and blind baking. And my Aunt Anne’s creamy  lemon pie that you serve with a little whipped cream. 

Deb Jensen’s Perfect Pie Crust

Makes enough for two, two-crust, and nine-inch pies (what is not used can be frozen)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾  cups solid shortening (1 cup very cold Crisco, 3/4 cup very cold butter)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ cup ice water
1 egg

Combine dry ingredients. Cut shortening into dry ingredients. Add egg to ice water, beat, then add vinegar. Stir into dry ingredients with a fork. Form into four balls, place individually in plastic wrap or small plastic bags and chill. Bring back to room temperature before rolling out. *

Dough keeps one month in refrigerator and longer in freezer.

*My biggest problem with pie crust is the rolling out. I use a well-floured pastry cloth and a well-floured mitten on my rolling pin. When it’s the right size, I roll the crust up on my rolling pin and gently “roll it out” over the pie plate. Add filling, and repeat the same for the top crust.

If you do this in a food processor (which I do): whirl dry ingredients. Add very, very cold butter and shortening in small chunks and pulse about 10 times. With machine running, add the wet mixture and process only until it just little pieces hold together. Dump it onto a floured surface, knead a little (very little), then follow directions in first paragraph.

***

I read at night in bed, sometimes hours before I am ready to go to sleep. I like to read long magazine articles, especially in the New Yorker. I don’t read all the articles but I surely remember the cartoons. On one particular night I saw a cartoon about selling food that might have been in the freezer for a long time. I promised myself that I would check the big freezer in the garage the next day

What I found were about three packages of skinless, boneless chicken breasts. They must have been on sale. I took a package and put it in the refrigerator. I found, a recipe, yellowed in age, I used to make it when we lived in Canterbury, Connecticut, maybe 25 years ago (not the chicken, just the recipe!). It is as delicious as I’d remembered. Feel free to use a bottled salsa, but the recipe below is my daughter’s recipe. 

Ginger Chicken Hash

Probably from The New York Times, possible the early 1990s

Yield: 2 servings

10 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock to poach chicken breasts
1 large baking potato
1 medium red onion (6 tablespoons grated)
1 tablespoons ginger, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons flour
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In a saucepan, add chicken breasts and stock. Bring to a boil, drop to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Remove from the pan. You will not use the stock again.

Meanwhile, peel potato, cut into small chunks and place in food processor. Chop fine by pulsing; place potato in a dish towel and twist to squeeze out liquid; place in mixing bowl. In the same processor bowl, finely chopped onion, then stir into the potato mixture. Grate ginger and add flour, egg whites, salt and pepper into the bowl and stir. When chicken is cool, dice and stir into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat large nonstick pan until it is very hot; reduce heat to medium. Add oil; add chicken hash mixture. Cook, stirring often, until browned. Stir with salsa.

Salsa

From my daughter, Darcy White

½ onion (she uses yellow onion, I like sweet onions)
1/3 bunch cilantro
1 bunch scallions (green onions), green and white parts
4 to 5 Roma tomatoes (3 t 4 vine-ripened or 1 to 2 beefsteak tomatoes)
1 small can Rotel original canned tomatoes
1 jalapeno, seeded, or half a can El Patio Mexican hot-style tomato sauce

Coarsely chop onions, cilantro, scallions and fresh tomatoes. Place all ingredients except jalapeno or hot sauce into a food processor or blender and pulse to desired consistency. Place in a medium-sized bowl; stir in the jalapeno or hot sauce, to your own taste, and mix. Serve as a dip for chips, add ¼ cup into guacamole or use with the chicken hash recipe above.

***

My husband’s parents and my own parents had a lot in common. Doug’s dad and mine were born on the same day and year, July 1, 1905. Our mothers were born on the same year. Each of our parents had two children, a boy first then girl. They all worked full-time. They lived in New York State, Doug’s in Rochester, mine in Troy. They didn’t meet until we married. Until they died, they liked each other.. 

Our mothers had something else in common. Neither of them enjoyed cooking. When Doug and I met (he lived in New York City while I was in Rochester), I didn’t know how to cook, but I loved him so I learned to cook. He never complained about my cooking, but he didn’t eat shepherd’s pie, possibly because his Michigan grandfather was a sheep farmers and his knowledge of lamb was mutton. Now alone, I  make shepherd’s pie with leftover lamb. Today I am thawing a lamb shoulder; tonight will be lamb for dinner. Tomorrow I will make enough shepherd’s pie for a couple more nights.

Shepherd’s Pie

Yield: serves 8 to 10

Olive oil
1 medium to large onion, diced
10 to 12 small- to medium-sized carrots, diced
3 pounds lamb chunks (beef is okay)*
5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 stick of butter
One-half cup milk (2 percent is fine)
1 14 ½  can diced tomatoes
Around 1 cup (as needed) stock (I use chicken stock)
1 pound each frozen tiny peas and corn (green beans could be nice, too)
grated cheese (optional)
paprika (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste, throughout the cooking

In a large skillet (or a Le Creuset Dutch oven), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and carrots are somewhat soft. Add salt and pepper to taste; remove vegetables from the skillet onto a plate. Add a bit more olive oil and put lamb into the same skillet; cook until meat is no longer pink. You may remove some of the fat that is rendered. 

In the meantime, put potatoes into a good-sized pot, add water and cook until potatoes are very soft. Drain potato water and place potatoes back on the cooktop. Mash the potatoes with butter and milk, Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Into the cooked lamb, add back the onions and carrots, the diced tomatoes, frozen peas and corn. Bring to a summer, adding enough stock so the mixture is not too dry. Again, season to taste.

In a large oven-proof casserole (large enough to hold veggies and lamb topped with potatoes),  pour in the mixture and even it out. Toss grated cheese over mixture, if using. Add mashed potatoes and carefully cover the mixture, sealing all around. Heat the “pie” in a preheated 350 degree oven until hot,. If you want a little color, add a bit of paprika to the top before putting it in the oven. If you really like more cheese, grated some more to the top about 15 minutes before it is ready to remove from the oven. 

 Shepherd’s pie can be made beforehand and refrigerate. To serve it hot,  heat oven to 350 degrees and place casserole, covered, into oven for about 30  minutes. Remove cover, then heat for another 25 minutes, until mashed potatoes are a bit crusty.  

*I used leftover lamb. If you do, you do not have to cook the lamb again.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

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