There's always leftover turkey. Even when I make smoked turkey I make much more than I think is needed so I can make pot pies with the leftovers.
Interestingly, historians think that the first pies were not fruit pies, they were round dough pockets filled with savory minced meat or cheese. Bob Cratchitt could carry it in his pocket for lunch and eat it with one hand and work with the other so Scrooge wouldn't harrangue him for loafing. The Cornish pasty was a variation, a round of dough mounded with meat, onion, potato, and turnip, folded over and crimped. The Italian calzone is similar, the Turkish and Balkan burek is made with flaky filo and filled with cheese and veggies, as is the Spanish empanada.
The American variant, the pot pie, probably got its name from the small crock pot it was cooked in, perhaps it was even a Boston Bean pot.
Frozen pot pies emerged after WWII as the frozen food industry took off. My Dad was a pioneer in the field, a food technologist who became a sales rep for Snow Crop in the late 1940s, one of the first successful frozen food giants. Pot pies were perfect for the times as the suburbs exploded, commuting times lengthened, and quick meals were eaten in front of the newfangled television.
Pot pies were probably the first thing I ever cooked. Frozen pot pies that is. If my parents had to leave me alone at night they would make sure there was a pot pie in the freezer and I would follow the instructions on the back of the box. They were warm and comforting, and I would eat them in front of the TV and wash them down with a taste of something purloined from Dad's liquor cabinet. No wonder they conjur such fond memories. Eventually I got caught for watering the whiskey, but that's another story.
I don't remember when Swanson and the others stopped making frozen pot pies with a double crust (that's pie jargon for a crust below and a crust above), but when that happened it was a rude awakening to a young man about the way the business world worked. I think it happened somewhere about the same time the Cubs traded future Hall of Famer Lou Brock and two nobodies to the Cards for three nobodies. My age of innocence had passed.
But as I look back, maybe that was not such a bad move. The single crust, not the Brock trade, that is. The bottom crust just drinks up a lot of gravy and just gets soggy. My wife and I now prefer our pot pies with a top crust only.
You can make a pot pie by cooking fresh chicken, turkey, beef, or pork, perhaps even boiling them to make stock for the gravy, but to me, it is absolutely the best thing to do with leftover turkey or chicken or braised beef short ribs. Leftover pulled pork is also delicious if it hasn't been soaked in barbecue sauce. Try it with apples, beans or potatoes, and carrots. Frankly, I look forward to the pot pies after Thanksgiving almost as much as the big turkey dinner. It is perfect for my Ultimate Smoked Turkey because there is almost always leftover meat and gravy.
Smoked Turkey Pot Pie Recipe
Makes. 4 pies about 2 cups each
Preparation time. 45 minutes if you have a pie crust ready to go. If you make that from scratch, add 15 minutes to make the dough, and 4 hours to chill.
Cooking time. About 40 minutes
Special equipment. A rolling pin, 4 oven safe bowls, ramekins, or bean pots, 2 cup capacity
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 pound leftover cooked turkey, pulled or chopped into marble size or smaller
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables
1/4 cup water
1/2 teapoon Simon & Garfunkel rub or poultry seasoning
2 crispy apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into marble size or smaller
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups of turkey stock or chicken stock
1 single crust pie dough
About the crust. You can make your own crust with my wife's recipe, or buy a frozen pie crust from the store, but don't get one that is sweet or that has been formed to a pie pan and pre baked. If you decide to make a double crust, be aware that you will need more crust, less filling, and a bit more gravy because the dough will absorb some. Another option is to put puffed pastry on the top. You can buy it pre-made.
About the turkey and the stock. Whenever we serve a turkey, we save the carcass. There's always a lot of meat left on it and between the ribs. We simmer it for hours in a big pot with the leftover gravy, and then freeze whatever meat we can pull off the carcass. Read the sidebar on my turkey recipe for how to make the stock.
About the veggies. We usually use frozen mixed veggies, peas, corn, carrots beans. The packages usually have lima beans in them, and I throw them out if my wife isn't looking. You can leave them in if you like that sort of thing.
About the mushrooms. Regular old button mushrooms work fine, but you can use others like portobellos or shiitakes.
About the apples. Try to get a really crunchy apple so it doesn't melt while cooking. Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or Red Delicious are good choices.
Other add-ins. Celery and potato cubes are common in pot pies. Chop a stalk of celery and add it with the onions and mushrooms. Pre-cook a potato by grilling it or boiling it, and then chop it into small cubes. Sweet potatoes are found in the south sometimes, and turnip is an Old World tradition. I've even seen recipes that call for rice and noodles. Just be careful, they can drink up a lot of gravy. You can add milk, cream to the gravy, or even grate in some parmesan cheese. A splash of sherry or brandy can give an edge to the gravy.
1) Make the crust. Follow the recipe for my wife's all purpose pie crust. Put it in the refrigerator and chill it for at least an hour.
2) Make the filling. Melt the butter over medium high heat in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms and onions, and cook until the onions are soft and transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add the veggies and cook until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the turkey, herb mix, and water and cook until warm. Turn to the lowest setting. Don't add the apples yet. Taste the filling, and add more salt, pepper, or herbs as you feel are needed.
3) For the gravy. While the filling is cooking, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. Add the flower a little at a time and whisk it in thoroughly so there are no lumps. Keep whisking until the mixture, called a roux, turns amber, but not brown. A roux adds flavor and complexity, and thickens the gravy. Turn the heat to high and immediately begin adding the turkey stock in a steady stream, whisking all the while so the roux dissolves. Whisk another minute or 3 until the sauce gets a bit thick, perhaps the thickness of latex wall paint.
4) Preheat. Now's a good time to preheat the oven to 350°F.
5) Filling the bowls. Divide the filling among the four bowls. Then divide the apple chunks among the four bowls. Then ladle the sauce evenly on top of the four bowls.
6) Adding the crust. Take the dough and cut it into four equal parts. Spread about 3 tablespoons of flour on a work surface, rub some on your rolling pin, and roll each quarter into a 1/8" thick disk, rolling from the center outward. Place it on top of the bowl, and cut it off about 1/2" beyond the edge. You can either let it simply hang over the edge, or roll it back until it is resting on the edge and make it look nice by crimping it or mushing the tines of a fork down on it. If you want to get fancy you can paint the dough with a thin layer of milk or egg white to help it brown. Poke about 6 small holes in the surface with a fork or an ice pick to let the steam out.
7) Bake. Put the pies on an upper rack where the crust can benefit from the heat reflected off the top of the oven and darken. Put aluminum foil or a pan on the rack below it to catch drips. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden on the edges, and you see steam coming out from under it. The actual cooking time will vary depending on how deep your bowls are. Remove from the oven and serve, but don't let anybody take a bite for about 10 minutes or else they will scald the roof of their mouth and talk funny for at least a day.