Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vol au Vent with Creamy Chicken Filling

It's old school and therefore cool to welcome friends into your home by making them something good to eat. I try to honor this increasingly rare tradition on game day, when the nerds and I assemble for all kinds of die rolling and what not.

I went French for today's meal and to do it right took a long time, about three hours. There are basically three major steps: making stock, making the pastry cups, and making the creamy chicken filling. This recipe will yield 6 servings, each serving consisting of two chicken-filled pastry cups for each person.

For the chicken and stock
4 bone in, skin on chicken breast halves.
7 1/2 cups water
1 carrot, peeled and cut into three pieces
1/2 medium onion, cut into wedges. (leave the skin on the onion)
1 celery stalk, leaves included, cut into 3-4 pieces
4 peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1-2 sprigs of parsley

For the pastry cups and creamy filling
Frozen puff pastry
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 sticks of butter
6 cups of the chicken stock (strained)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon minced thyme
20 fresh Cipollini onions
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cups finely diced carrots
1 egg, beaten

For the puff pastry
1. Take the puff pastry out to thaw, but don't let it sit too long. It needs to be cool, but not room temperature or it will get sticky.

2. Flour a large cutting board, unfold the puff pastry, flour it as well, then roll out the sheet to about 1/8" think. Add flour as needed while rolling to keep the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin. Thinner is better. Cut out 5" diameter circles (I used a large ramekin as a guide).

3. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray and press the puff pastry into the holes. Because the pastry is 5" wide, you will need to stagger the pastry in the pan. You will also have to bake the pastry in batches. Make sure the pastry is firmly pressed into the molds of the muffin pan. You don't want any space between the pastry and the pan. Poke a few holes in the pastry with a fork.

4. Make an egg wash by beating an egg with a teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the egg wash over the puff pastry. Finally, cut out parchment paper, place in the holes over the puff pastry and add ceramic baking beans. (You can also substitute with any dry bean.)

5. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. When you remove the parchment paper and ceramic baking beans, the inside of the cups might still be soft. You can bake for another 3 minutes to brown the inside.

For the chicken and stock
1. Prepare the chicken by placing all of the ingredients listed under "For the chicken and stock" into a large pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken and separate the meat from the skin, bones, tendons, etc. Rough chop the chicken and set aside. Strain the stock and reserve. You will need 6 cups, so you might want to strain into large measuring cups. If you don't have enough stock, you can supplement with store bought.

For the filling
1. Melt the butter over medium heat. (You can use the same pot in which you prepared your stock and chicken.) Add the chopped onions and cook them until soft.

2. Add the flour and whisk.

3. Slowly add the chicken stock , whisking thoroughly to ensure there are no lumps.

4. Add the milk and whisk to incorporate.

5. Cook for 8-10 minutes just under a simmer in order for the sauce to thicken. (You are also cooking the taste of the flour out.) Three minutes into the thickening, add the Cippolini onions.

6. Add the thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

7. Add the chicken, frozen peas and carrots. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 10-15 minutes. (This will give the carrots and peas time to warm.)

8. Spoon into pastry cups and serve.

Give yourself plenty of time with this dish. When I do it again, I'll give myself 3.5 hours and make a leisurely afternoon of it. The pastry cups don't need to be served warm, so you can do that first, taking your time to do a few batches. Start the chicken and stock next, then move onto the filling.

If you've never worked with puff pastry, you should do some research like watching some YouTube videos. The baking beans are critical. I forgot to add them on my first batch and, well, they were ruined.

Overall, this is such a great dish that incorporates some basic, classic cooking techniques, like preparing a stock that will then be added to a rue to create a delicious sauce. Don't skimp to save time by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts or store bought broth.

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