The first time I made this turkey pot pie was the second time I’d spent a holiday with my now-husband’s family. I’d driven up the day after Thanksgiving to spend the rest of the weekend with everyone in Asheville, and, given that I’d missed out on all the cooking from the day before, I volunteered to throw something together out of the leftovers. Pot pie seemed the obvious choice.
We had all the right ingredients – leftover turkey and stock, the tail ends of the carrots, celery, and onions, a few handfuls of mushrooms, and the bag of long-forgotten frozen peas that everyone has stashed in the freezer, just in case.
I started by throwing together a batch of biscuit dough – at this point I no longer remember which one, since my biscuit allegiances shift pretty rapidly. I probably made whatever was my favorite at the time and chucked it in the fridge while I put everything else together. Whatever biscuit you choose will be fine (yes, even frozen or refrigerated) – they aren’t the star of the show here, especially since they soak up the stew as they bake. Just please don’t use pie crust – I know it’s traditional, but the ratio of pastry to pot-pie filling is all wrong.
Now, to the filling.
I started with the mushrooms since I knew I wanted them to sear and get a nice brown crust. I did this first partly because I’m lazy and didn’t want to wash a second pan and partly because I know that searing anything creates those wonderful, flavorful brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Great turkey pot pie is all about building in opportunities to build deeper flavor, and starting a good fond early is one of the best ways to get there.
Also, like caramelizing onions, browning mushrooms properly takes much longer than most people tell you. You want them in the pan long enough that their moisture cooks out – you have to wait through the phase where they’re boiling in a puddle of their own juices. Once the juice evaporates, you should start to see some beautiful brown edges, especially if you don’t stir too much. Be patient. You will be rewarded.
Once the mushrooms finished, I scooped them out, added some more butter and oil, and started sweating the rest of the vegetables. Please don’t be afraid of adding fat here – it’ll seem like a lot, but it’s crucial for thickening the sauce down the road. We’re working on making a modified roux – a classic thickening mixture made of equal parts flour and fat – we’re just cooking the vegetables down in the oil before we add the flour.
Also it’s Thanksgiving. This is not the time to sweat over a tablespoon or two of extra butter.
Feel free to freestyle the vegetables here – this is a perfect dish to start working down your leftovers. I started with a base mixture of carrots, onion, celery, and garlic and left it at that, but I think you could add bell pepper, sliced brussels sprouts, leftover spinach or greens, or even small chunks of (cooked) potato. Let your muse move you. Whatever you decide, you’ll want about two cups worth, total.
And don’t skimp on the garlic.
Once the vegetables were cooked, I added a few big spoonfuls of flour and stirred that around with my vegetables for a few minutes before slowly streaming in the turkey stock. This is the place where quality does matter. I get a lot of credit for this pot pie recipe, but I swear its success rests on the back of the stock my father-in-law and his best friend make every year. If you don’t have access to homemade stock, at least use something you’d be willing to sip on its own.
The first time (honestly every time) I made this I didn’t measure anything, so my stew started out more paste-like than spoonable and silky. So I just kept adding stock and milk – and spoonfuls of leftover gravy/turkey jus since I had it – until the texture was where I wanted it.
Pro tip: it’s better to aim for a stew a little thinner than you think the final turkey pot pie should be. It will seem much thicker once you add the rest of the ingredients – and if it’s still too thin you can always adjust the final texture with a few spoonfuls of a flour and water slurry or flour and butter paste.
Once the texture was right, I dumped in the leftover roast turkey, the seared mushrooms and any juice they had accumulated, a few handfuls of frozen peas, and a sprinkle of minced herbs – I think I had sage and thyme that year, but anything works. Just go carefully if you choose rosemary – it gets away from you quick.
I then spent about 5 minutes fiddling with the final flavor profile, going back and forth between dashes of soy and Worcestershire sauce, sprinkles of salt and pepper, and maybe a splash of white wine. You don’t need to spend this much time over it – I was just agonizing over the details since everyone in our family loves food and I was trying to make a good (second) impression. I have a professional reputation to maintain after all.
After topping with the biscuits and a quick trip into the oven, dinner was served.
And while I’m not going to say that this turkey pot pie is single-handedly responsible for my in-law’s opinions of me, I will say that I’m more or less required to make it every year. So if you make this, be prepared to make it again.
Turkey Pot Pie
Yield: 4-6 servings Time: about an hour (or 1.5 hours if you need to make biscuits) Source: Inspired by Alton Brown
I’ve included the measurements below more as guidelines than as an actual recipe. Pot pie is super forgiving, and this is a great opportunity to try some freeform cooking. Just eyeball it and I’m sure you’ll be fine – it’s what I normally do! Forcing myself to slow down and actually measure felt very weird.
It goes without saying, but this is an ideal recipe for using up Thanksgiving leftovers – feel free to add a dollop or two of gravy, leftover roasted veggies, or anything else that strikes your fancy. And as with the roasted tomato soup, this is a great opportunity to play with flavor-enhancing ingredients like soy sauce or worcestershire sauce for depth, dry sherry or white wine for brightness – taste at the end and see how different ingredients change the final flavor.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 8 oz package button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large onion, cut into small dice
- 1 medium carrot, cut into small dice
- 1 stalk celery, cut into small dice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dry sherry
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried rubbed sage
- 2 cups turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock – just please make sure it’s high-quality
- 1 cup milk
- 1 lb leftover turkey meat, light or dark, cut into medium dice
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 recipe biscuit dough cut into rounds, or 9 frozen or refrigerated biscuits
Preheat your oven to 425°F
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the butter stops foaming, then add the sliced mushrooms and a pinch or two of salt. Sauté until the mushrooms have released their liquids and are starting to brown around the edges, 5 minutes. Scoop the mushrooms out of the pan and set aside for now.
Add the remaining butter and olive oil to the pan and drop the heat to medium. Once the butter melts, add the onions, celery, and carrot. Season with a pinch or two of salt and cook until the carrots and celery have softened and the onion is translucent and starting to brown around the edges. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the flour. Cook for a minute or so, just long enough to get rid of the raw taste, before adding the thyme, sage, and a few twists of black pepper. Slowly stream in the stock, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Once the stock is in, add the milk and bring to a boil. Stir in the mushrooms, frozen peas, turkey meat, soy sauce, and sherry. If the sauce seems too thick, feel free to add a splash or two more stock to get things back where you want them. Taste and adjust the seasoning before topping with the biscuits.
Bake until the biscuits are puffed and brown on top, 20-25 minutes.