Turkey potpies make leftovers new again

Turkey pot pie, hot out of the oven. BY JACK CLEMONS
December 9, 2013

At first, I wasn’t sure why the man at the deli counter gave me an odd look when I placed my order. Then it dawned on me - at a time when many people are complaining about the prospect of another leftover turkey meal, I was asking for an entire pound of sliced breast.

For as long as I can remember, our family tradition was to spend Thanksgiving with our aunt and uncle, joining a large group of extended family. Once we returned home, my mother would roast a turkey breast; since we didn’t have any leftovers, she had to create some.

We would devour turkey sandwiches for a few days before tiring of plain breast meat and branching out into variations of highly flavored and largely disguised leftover turkey dishes. If it was cold or snowy, individual turkey potpies were a favorite choice (see photo). If we had a sudden warm spell, our menu would include turkey barbecue or turkey enchiladas.

Assembling a turkey potpie is a relatively simple process, while choosing specific ingredients is a little trickier. At the start, you’ll need to pick whether you want a broth-based or cream-based sauce holding together the turkey chunks and vegetables. Then you’ll have to select which vegetables will make it into your potpie.

There are green pea advocates, sliced carrot advocates, pearl onion versus diced onion debaters, followed by the celery supporters and celery haters (I am in the latter category). Not only do you have to decide on which vegetables will be admitted to the mix, you’ll also need to optimize what’s available among the leftovers, waiting in your freezer to be defrosted or still fresh in the crisper drawer (canned vegetables should never be considered, they’re already too mushy).

The final decision is the crust. Do you want a delicate puff pastry or a traditional rolled crust? Before the availability of prepackaged crusts in stock at most supermarkets, I would opt for the basic flour and shortening rolled into circles. Once sheets of puff pastry could be found in the frozen food aisles, the opportunity to elevate the humble potpie to flaky heights had arrived.

Now that you’ve completed the planning, you’re ready to begin building your pie. One of the ways to incorporate a rich, complex flavor profile to the sauce is to sauté the vegetables and turkey chunks, starting with the onions. Once they’ve started to turn golden, add the vegetables and turkey chunks. The moisture in the mushrooms and carrots will slightly deglaze the skillet, adding color and flavor.

Some recipes call for making the sauce in a separate saucepan, regardless of whether it is cream-based and thick or broth-based and thin. I find you’ll retain more flavor in the mixture if the sauce is built in the same pan with the other ingredients. Seasoning the filling in your pie is a very personal choice. We tend to gravitate to traditional poultry herbs, such as thyme and sage, but everything from fresh parsley to rosemary sprigs can be added.

I’ve included two recipes for you to consider the next time you make a potpie. One has a slightly creamy sauce with a standard pastry crust. Although the various dairy alternatives for a creamy sauce include everything from heavy cream to evaporated milk to chunks of cream cheese, this one calls for whole milk, a good choice to avoid separation or unwanted lumps. The second recipe has a lighter sauce with a bright tang of Dijon mustard.

Remember, if you’re reading this after all your leftovers have already been eaten, you can always follow my mother’s example and roast another turkey breast.

Creamy Turkey Potpie

1/4 C butter
1 chopped onion
1 C sliced carrots
1 C sliced mushrooms
2 C cooked turkey, diced
1/4 C flour
1 1/2 C turkey stock
1 C whole milk
1 t thyme
1 t sage
salt & pepper, to taste
1 9-inch pastry crust

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until starting to brown. Add carrots, mushrooms and turkey; continue to cook, stirring often until liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle flour into the skillet and stir until dissolved. Reduce heat to low; pour in stock and milk, stirring until sauce is thickened. Add seasonings and transfer to prepared baking dish. Cover with pie crust, pinching the edges in a decorative pattern. Bake until the crust is golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Puff Pastry Turkey Potpie

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
1/4 C butter
2 chopped onions
1 minced shallot
1 1/2 C sliced carrots
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3 C cubed cooked turkey
2 T flour
3 C turkey stock
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t thyme
3 T chopped parsley
1 C peas (optional)
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions, shallot, carrots, and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often until the vegetables have wilted. Add the turkey and cook until moisture has evaporated. Sprinkle flour into the skillet and cook until the flour begins to brown lightly.

Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Whisk in the mustard, thyme, parsley and peas (if using). Transfer filling to prepared baking dish.

Unfold the puff pastry sheet and arrange over top of baking dish, crimping edges around the rim. Bake until the pastry is golden, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.