I recently had lunch at Dine, the restaurant of the Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro hotel. I wasn’t there because of my food writing credentials. Marion’s sister Lena works in the travel industry. The hotel had invited her to lunch; I was her plus one.
Historically, hotel restaurants have offered safe, if less than inspired meals to weary business travelers and wary tourists afraid to play restaurant roulette in a strange city. That’s beginning to change, though. Increasingly, hotels are bringing in new chefs and inviting them to play with their food.
You won’t find culinary high wire acts in most hotel restaurants; they still have to appeal to a broad range of customers and palates. But you will find more focus on freshness, more attention to sourcing and inventive flavor combinations and presentation. What hotels are finding is that this approach can make them appealing to local diners, too.
At Dine, executive chef Erik Dybvik has created breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menus of “high-style comfort food,” as the hotel website describes it. Menu elements such as onion marmalade, duck fat roasted potatoes, farro, rapini, smoked trout mousse, caramelized fennel and white bean ragout bear out that description.
The grilled ahi burger I had, served with red onion, oven roasted tomato, arugula and roasted garlic mayo, was delicious and generous. But it was Lena’s lunch that caught my attention, chef Erik’s take on chicken pot pie, served not in a crust, but on a scallion biscuit. For some time, I had been thinking about making something close to traditional chicken pot pie, but replacing the crust with a layer of drop biscuits. Chef Erik’s approach – preparing the biscuits and filling separately, then plating them together – was a revelation, not only easier to prepare, but easier (and more attractive) to serve and eat. I left our lunch with a full belly and a recipe idea to make my own.
Meat pies date back to the Roman Empire, but the pot pie is distinctly American – hearty, comforting farm food. Biscuits share that same rural American heritage. Combining the two seemed a natural. It also offered the opportunity to play with them a bit.
When I was a kid, almost any meal that included gravy ended with me putting a slice of white bread on my plate and smothering it in gravy. Whatever else had been served, this was the star of the show to me. Then when I started to cook, I learned that if you added herbs and wine, gravy suddenly became sauce. An aha! moment.
That’s what I did with my deconstructed pot pie. I added garlic, herbes de Provence and wine to the filling, giving everything a vaguely French quality. And I added fresh thyme to the biscuits, which delicately flavored them throughout. Many herb biscuit recipes include chives (chef Erik used scallions in his), but I wanted the extra biscuits to be at home with butter or jam.
The drop biscuits are in keeping with the rustic roots of pot pies and are far easier to make than rolled biscuits. You can prepare the filling a day or more ahead and gently reheat it while you make the biscuits. Or you can get the filling started on the stovetop and then make the biscuits as it simmers.
Deconstructed chicken pot pie
Serves 4, with extra biscuits
For the filling:
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into polite bite-sized pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced (or cremini)
1 medium yellow onion, copped (or 2 shallots)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock)
1 cup dry white wine [may substitute cooking wine]
1/2 cup half and half (or whole milk)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup frozen peas
For the biscuits:
Makes about 9 biscuits (this recipe owes a great deal to America’s Test Kitchen)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup buttermilk
1. Make the filling. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, lidded sauté pan over medium flame. Add the chicken to the pan and season lightly with salt and pepper. Very lightly brown the chicken, stirring frequently, about five or so minutes. You don’t want to brown it completely – just get rid of all the pink on the outside. Transfer chicken to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan (and a drizzle of oil, if needed) and sauté the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, about 4 or 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with chicken.
2. Melt a generous 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan, swirling to coat. Sweat onion in the butter until it begins to soften, just 2 or 3 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid browning. Add garlic and herbes de Provence and stir to combine. Clear a space in the center of the pan and sprinkle in flour. Whisking constantly (this tool, a DIREKT Whisk, is awesome for the job), lightly brown the flour, incorporating the onions into the mix. Cook the mixture a good 5 minutes, continuing to whisk constantly (this will cook out the raw flour taste, creating a blond roux or thickening agent).
3. Add the broth, wine, and half and half to the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Return the chicken and mushrooms to the pan and add the carrots and peas. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toward the end, you may want to only partially cover the pan to allow the sauce to thicken. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Make the biscuits. Once the filling is simmering and doesn’t need your attention, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or else lightly grease a baking sheet). Melt butter in a small saucepan, then transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly. Mix dry ingredients and thyme in a large mixing bowl.
5. Measure the chilled buttermilk into a 2-cup measuring cup. Add melted butter and stir until clumps form. Stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula just until the ingredients are incorporated. At first, it will seem as if you need more liquid; just keep scraping the bottom of the bowl until you’ve worked all the flour into the dough.
6. Using a greased 1/3-cup measure, scoop mounds of dough and drop them onto baking sheet, spacing about 1-1/2 inches apart. Press on them with your fingers to slightly flatten. Bake biscuits until the tops are golden brown, 12-14 minutes (mine were done in 12, but that could be our screwy oven). Remove from oven and let rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes.
7. Assemble the pot pies. Slice four still-warm biscuits in half, placing the bottoms in shallow bowls. spoon the filling over the biscuit bottoms and top each with a biscuit top. Serve, offering additional biscuits with butter and preserves.