After the rousing approval my canned Beef Pot Pie filling got from my husband, I decided to give Chicken Pot Pie Filling a try, too. I also decided to go a little different in the way I prepared the chicken, since chicken is notorious for getting soft … to the point of mushy
I started with four pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I cut them into 1/2-inch cubes rather than bigger chunks because I wanted to have bites of chicken in almost every bite of pot pie. Once I had all my meat cut up, I spread it all out on my electric griddle. Just like when I created my canned beef pot pie filling, I seasoned my meat heavily at this point … 1) to create the best flavored meat possible, and 2) because it’s going to carry that seasoning into the jar for my potatoes, peas, carrots, etc. I topped my diced chicken with garlic powder, onion powder, fresh-cracked black pepper, rosemary and–instead of salt–I used powdered chicken bullion to round out the flavors.
I know. You’re sitting there thinking “What the? She’s using an electric griddle to cook a POT PIE? AND she’s using bullion instead of salt? How … bizzare!”
As always, there’s method to my madness I’m using my electric griddle for several reasons:
- Beef and chicken don’t have the same texture. Beef gets very tender when you can it, but chicken–especially raw-packed chicken–gets absolutely mushy in a canning jar. That’s okay if you’re making chicken you plan to use in salads, tacos, soups, etc. I like it tender in those cases … but in something like this, I want to retain as much texture as I can in my meat. This means that you need to get as much of the water out of the inside of the meat as you can –before– you put it in the jar. Don’t worry: that extra water is NOT necessary. In fact, that water is nothing but “basting solution” that the meat packer injected into your chicken … under the premise of making it more “juicy and tender.” In reality, it’s a bit more sinister than that. “Basting solution” is nothing but salt water with maybe a little flavoring thrown in. It makes up between 5-15% of the weight of that package of chicken you just bought … so you just paid $1.99 a pound or more for water. Get it out of your meat, and you’ll see the difference in your final canned product.
- It’s hard to brown meat properly in a frying pan … especially if you have a lot of it like I did. I’d need to fry it in batches if I wanted to get this sort of brown … but when I use my electric griddle … I can get lots of great browned meat flavors! Bonus points: I cooked all four pounds of meat at once–all on HIGH–so my meat was browned and ready to go in barely ten minutes. In other words, it’s a time saver, too!
- Note: I didn’t say anything about putting any fat/oil on my griddle. That’s because I didn’t. My griddle is non-stick, and I take advantage of that when I’m prepping meat for my canning jars this way. No oil means fewer calories, and less of a chance that the oil will cause problems with my jars sealing.
As far as me using bullion instead of salt goes: white meat chicken is BLAND! It picks up every flavor around it … which is why it’s perfect for so many things. However, that can be problematic in a canning jar because–in the absence of other flavors–chicken picks up the taste of the water you pack it in … which then gets magnified inside the jar as it pressure cans.
If your tap water has a bit of a musty or funky taste to it … that taste will be reflected in your water-packed chicken. Does your water have a chlorine flavor? That taste will get into your canned chicken, too. And–unless you raise and butcher your own chickens–raw-pack won’t save you either. Even if you don’t add any water to your canned chicken (and many people don’t want to hear this … but it’s true … so I’m going to say it) then–instead–your chicken is going to taste like that cold water bath they soaked your freshly-butchered chicken in at the packing plant. That water bath can taste like the town water where the chicken plant is located … or worse.
Read a little about how they do commercial chicken packing these days, and the problems inherent in the system they use. I’m not freaky about germs and such–heck, I’ve even eaten fried grasshoppers and spiced mealworms–but finding out about how they mass process chicken was enough to make me stop and think. That cold water bath I mentioned–the one they’ve proven that chickens absorb water from–is located on the production line right after they gut the chicken carcass. Its job it to rinse and then chill the chicken carcasses down–getting them ready to be refrigerated–but that’s where the biggest problem in the entire process lies.
After it’s been beheaded and plucked, the chicken gets to a part of the machinery where it scoops the guts out in one swift motion, using this thing that looks like a flexible metal loop. The loop goes into the chicken’s body, rakes the guts out, and drops them onto another conveyor belt, heading in another direction. The chicken goes on from there, dropping into a cooling water bath. The problem is … that same machine is notorious for breaking open the chicken’s digestive tract in the process–smearing feces, digestive juices, and more on the chicken’s body–right before it drops into the water with hundreds of other cooling chickens. A documentary I saw a few years ago on this process estimated that at least 10% of the chickens were mangled by the machine like that on any given day … which means that 100% of the chickens that went into the water with those 10% chickens were ALSO contaminated by the presence of feces, etc. in the water.
Because of this poorly designed system, that cold water bath is the #1 source of salmonella infestation in raw chicken … and the #1 reason why they tell you to be so incredibly careful with chicken in your kitchen … why they tell you to clean surfaces so carefully … why they tell you to discard any juice you find in the package, etc. However, even if you don’t get sick on it, canning commercially-processed chicken without something else flavoring it can let that taste (of “cold chicken poo stew“) come through. And I do everything I can to avoid it.
Plain salt does nothing to hide it. Even when paired with pepper and garlic, I can still taste it … so I’ve gotten in the habit of using powdered chicken bullion instead of salt when I can chicken. In my experience, it keeps you from getting that canned chicken funk you get without it. Granted, some chicken bullions contain MSG or too much salt, so pick and choose them carefully … or make your own! However, even commercially processed, heavily-salted and CHEAP chicken bullion tastes better than plain canned chicken.
As my chicken started to sizzle on my electric griddle, I put two small saucers under the legs on the opposite side from where the drain hole/tray is, elevating the opposite side just a bit so that juices ran off into the drain/didn’t pool on the griddle as I cooked. This is important for a couple of reasons. One, you’re cooking your chicken on the griddle–not boiling it–so you don’t want liquids pooled under the meat. In effect, you’re just boiling the meat on the griddle that way. And two, just because I want that water out from inside the meat fibers … it doesn’t mean I don’t want it at all. I definitely plan to make use of the juices later on, so don’t throw them out! Just let them accumulate in the drip tray.
It was beginning to smell amazingly good in my kitchen!
Once all the meat was browned, I stripped it off the griddle and put it all in a large stainless steel bowl. I don’t have the luxury of cooking everything in the same pot or frying pan–taking advantage of all those yummy pan juices–so I’m basically faking it by using the big bowl to collect and distribute my flavors.
At that point, I grabbed the drip tray out from under the griddle. The juice there tasted awesome–way, WAY to good to waste–so I poured it back over my meat and stirred it in.
I know. That’s a little confusing. First I tell you to griddle all the water out of your chicken … then I tell you to take all that water and pour it back over your meat. What the?
The reason is simple. You want the extra water outside of the meat. That way, it won’t be inside the meat fibers when your pressure canner hits maximum overdrive … so it can’t turn to steam inside of your meat, where it would pound the living daylights out of your meat’s texture. A lot of that water evaporated off the griddle as you were browning your chicken … but the rest of it accumulated in that drip tray, taking a lot of the seasonings with it … so I’m just returning it to the meat where it belongs.
It does look yummy, doesn’t it … all by itself
Once the meat was browned and happily marinading in its own juices, I peeled and chopped three large onions, and put them down on the same griddle to caramelize.
As my onions started to get that nice brown color on them as well, I divided my meat up among 16 wide-mouth pints.
As you can see from the second angle, this gave me a nice bit of meat in each jar … so my pot pies will definitely be meaty!
I kept my stainless steel bowl after I finished dividing up the meat. As you can see from the picture below, that bowl has some tasty bits in it, so–since I don’t have a pot here that I’m frying things in–I’m going to use that bowl again and again as I transfer food from the griddle into my jars … in order to pick up/take advantage of all of the flavor I can.
I cooked my onions hot and fast, so–when they were done to my satisfaction–I had dark brown, caramelized onion-tasting parts … AND thicker, more raw/fresh onion-tasting parts, so my pie filling will benefit from both. Again, I added my onions to my stainless steel bowl, swirled them around a bit to make sure I got all that grilled chicken flavor that was left in the bowl all over the hot onions, and then I let them cool just a bit before I went forward.
I want a bit of gravy in my pot pie filling–just like I did with the beef version–but I don’t want it too thick. The trick with pot pie gravy is … it needs to be thickened and rich, yes … but it also needs to be thin enough to soak into the crust/biscuits/mashed potatoes/whatever topping you put on it. That’s part of what makes a normal pot pie great: a crust/topping that’s delicious all on its own … but even better where it’s soaked in rich meat-flavored gravy.
I’m making 16 half pints of filling today, so–estimating that I need approx. one teaspoon of Clear Jel per pint–I added a half-cup (16 teaspoons = 1/2 cup) of that NCHFP-approved thickener to my bowl of onions.
Then I stirred it in, making sure to get all of the Clear Jel melted against the onions.
Why did I do it that way? you ask.
I didn’t want to just drop a teaspoon of dry Clear Jel into the jar, layered with all those hot, damp ingredients. It’s going to make gummy spots that way that might dissolve when I pour in my boiling water … and they might not. It might make gummy spots that just end up being cooked gummy spots. I’m not sure … so I didn’t want to chance it. And I didn’t want to stir it in (like I did my pork & beans) because I was using hot food and hot water this time, not cold. If I started stirring it, too … I’d make gravy before I was ready. Shaking the jar is also problematic. I don’t recommend you EVER shake a canning jar after you’ve filled it and put a lid on it/but before you’ve canned it, or after you canned it and before it cools. Why? Because shaking a jar can shove bits of food between the lip of your jar and that rubber seal on your lid. In case you were wondering … that would be bad
Therefore, I made the decision to basically melt my Clear Jel all over my onions, to dissolve that physically-modified cornstarch there by sprinkling it over and then stirring it in completely … so that–once the hot water hit them, right before I put a lid on the jar and tucked it into a pressure canner–the Clear Jel would start to melt off the onions and into the water … where it will make smooth and yummy gravy. That’s also why I let my onions cool a bit before I added the Clear Jel. I didn’t want the heat making cooked lumps before I could stir them smooth.
On top of my Clear Jell-glazed caramelized onions and my yummy grilled chicken meat, I added green and orange invaders (peas and carrots: I divided a one-pound bag of frozen peas and carrots up amongst my 16 pints) and peeled diced potatoes. Just like my beef pot pies, I dropped all of my ingredients into my jars loosely. I didn’t pack them down so that my water will be able to reach all around a large percentage of my ingredients instantly … but if I had packed them down, they would fill 1/2 the jar … just like the requirements on the NCHFP website for soup.
See? All my jars in a row, waiting for the canner
Once I had all the solid ingredients in my jars, I took a clean paper towel–moistened in boiling water–and cleaned the lips of all my jars FIRST. Why? Because–as I cooked and assembled the various ingredients–some food has dried on the lips of my jars. This will blow a seal in a heartbeat … and I don’t want to have a jar up scrubbing it after I’ve filled it with BOILING WATER! … so I cleaned each jar’s lip first … then filled it to within a one-inch headspace … then cleaned it again (much easier this time) before I added my two-part lid and moved the jar to my pressure canner.
Just like last time, I processed my jars at 10psi (in my weight-gauge canner … at sea level) like “soup” … for 75 minutes.
Aren’t they beautiful?
Yes, my filling is a little darker than most mass-processed chicken pot pie fillings. You know what I’m talking about: that sickly yellow stuff that tastes mostly like chicken bullion cubes. That’s because I put some great brown flavor on my chicken and caramelized those onions well, too. It shows in the color of my final product! I can’t wait to crack open a jar to see how it tastes … but–given how much I had to smell all of this cooking–I think I can guess … and it’s going to be pretty yummy
- four pounds of chicken breasts @ $1.99/lb…………..$7.96
- three lbs onions from my 50# bag…………………………0.48
- one-lb bag of frozen peas and carrots…………………….0.59
- approx. four pounds of potatoes……………………………0.80
- Clear Jel and various spices, over estimated…………..0.35
Total cost for 16 pints of meaty, homemade, mostly cooked in the jar chicken pot pie filling………………………$10.18 …. or $0.64/pint
Wow! Remember when those frozen Banquet Pot Pies cost less than a dollar each? I just had a moment of nostalgia … mine taste a wwwwhhhhooollleee lot better!
I think I’m in love!