According to CTV Ottawa Morning Live, today is supposed to be “Ditch New Years Resolutions” day. According to the litany of American national food holidays, the 19th of January is apparently “Hot Buttered Rum” day. And, it will be “National Popcorn Day” on Saturday.
The weather in Ottawa, however, is frightful with temperatures falling to -20°C this evening. That is, before taking into account “wind chill.” While thermometers read -17°C, it “feels” like -25°C presently. So, indulging in something comforting doesn’t seem completely beyond reason. Since many comfort foods tend to run counter to popular new year resolutions (calorie-wise, at least), it may well be a good day to give up on a resolution or cheat a little.
Chicken Pot Pie
One of my favourite “go to” cold weather comfort foods is chicken pot pie. It is also my go to leftover solution for roast bird, be it chicken, duck, or turkey. Think roughly chopped dark and white meat enrobed in a creamy sauce with peas, onion or leek, carrots, and potato. Every serving comes with a bit of flaky pastry.
Another post on the subject would be excessive, especially since I am of the humble opinion preparing the dish should be formless. The sauce can be thickened with anything from a starch hydrocolloid (corn starch or flour) to mashed potatoes. The crust can be homemade or purchased. I often employ store-bought puff pastry.
[Honestly, who has the time to make puff pastry from scratch? And yes, I’ve done it. Making puff pastry falls under my more masochistic arguments for “fun.”]
That said, my wife and I recently made a pot pie topped with filo pastry, also store-bought. We fashioned a rudimentary old school bechemel with leftover duck fat, flour, and skim milk, something akin to ordering a cheeseburger, fries, and a diet coke. After frying the flour in the oil until nutty, the milk was added and whisked vigorously.
In a separate pan we sweated (fried but not browned) until soft some mirepoix diced carrots, red bell pepper, and yellow onions.
The bechemel was seasoned with salt, paprika, and garlic powder. To it, we added the sweated aromatics and meat we pulled from a leftover roast chicken, two thighs and two breasts-worth. The carcass was frozen for stock some other time.
Once the “stew” like mixture cooled, it was deposited into a roasting pan and covered with layers of defrosted filo, each sheet brushed with vegetable oil.
The “pie” was then placed in an oven, preheated to 400°F, until the filo separated, crisped, and coloured.
Slices (more squares) of lusciousness with crispy filo were served hot.
Smothered Pork Chops
Pot pies are comforting and all, but skim milk bechemel isn’t quite as rich as cream. When it comes to cream, there is no easier excuse to indulge than a pan sauce, especially if the pan sauce is meant to smother something like a chop.
Consider inch thick center cut pork chops, cut from the ribs between the sirloin and shoulder portions.
More often than not North American pork, unless you’re purchasing heritage, is flavourless. To up the flavour quotient, I dry cure non-heritage chops. My standard cure is made with 8 tbsp brown sugar or raw sugar (anything with a little molasses character), 3 tbsp kosher salt, and pinches of whatever herbs and spices I fancy. Usually, I grind together 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of whole peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, and thyme with 2-3 whole chile peppers (seeds and all).
I sprinkle the cure sparingly onto the chops and place them in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight works too.
To cook, I wipe off the cure, pat the chops mostly dry, and coat each chop with a thin film of flour. These, I then pan fry on medium-high heat with 2 tbsp of high smoke point oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. I prefer not to use non-stick because I want fond to form.
Once both sides of the chops are crusted, arrange the chops on a rack over a sheet pan and place everything into an oven, preheated to 400F. Roast the chops to the desired doneness.
While the chops are roasting, slice and sautee white button mushrooms in butter until golden and set them aside.
Add anywhere from a 1/3 to a 1/2 cup of cream or half and half to the pan you fried the pork chops in. Place the pan over medium heat and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. When the bits have come away and dissolved in the liquid, season it with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a tbsp of maple syrup or honey and dark soy sauce. Add the sauteed mushrooms and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the sauce until thickened.
Serve the pork chops, smothered in the “mushroom gravy.” The pork will be imbued with spice. Every bite will carry heat, salt, and sweet. The sauce will be rich, both in texture and umami flavour.
If you’re going to cheat on your resolutions, make it count!
Stay warm Ottawa!