The only part of Thanksgiving better than the dinner itself is the next day, when we feast on leftovers. Sandwiches made with sliced turkey and cranberry sauce. Turkey soup. Turkey salad. When I was in his kitchen at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, chef Andrew Pastore showed me how to make my new favorite after-Thanksgiving dish: elegant, individual turkey pot pies.
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Reopened in 2010 after extensive remodeling, Clifton’s remained true to its historical soul as a cafeteria. In the street-level dining hall, customers carry their trays between stations as they collect beverages, salads, entrees, sides and desserts.
Clifton’s takes a page from big-idea theme restaurants. Remodeled dining rooms on all four floors reflect the heyday of the 1930s when there were worlds to be explored and swank nightclubs to attend.
Pastore’s task was to provide a through line for the varied environments of the restaurant. Relaunching Clifton’s meant creating a menu that included old favorites as well as popular modern dishes, which explains why the turkey pot pies share counter space with freshly made sushi and vegan meatloaf.
You might think that a cafeteria would skimp on quality when the kitchen has to prepare as many as 1,000 meals a day. Not so at Clifton’s. Pastore sources quality ingredients that would be at home in any fine dining restaurant. He supervises every detail of preparation. He innovates familiar dishes.
Take his roast beef sandwich, for example. The pink-in the middle beef is moist and flavorful. To add kick, he smears a bit of horseradish sauce on the freshly baked bread. Another chef would layer on tomatoes. That’s where Pastore shows his inventiveness.
Instead of fresh tomatoes, he uses slow roasted Roma tomatoes. Seasoned with dried herbs, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, the tomatoes are halved and roasted in a 200 F oven for up to eight hours. They give up their water and collapse on themselves. The result is a blast of melt-in-your-mouth tomato flavor.
It is that attention to detail and creativity that Pastore brought to updating his version of Clifton’s classic turkey pot pie.
At Clifton’s, every day is Thanksgiving
Pastore cooks 40 turkeys every day. Roasted turkeys are served at the carving station. He uses the carcasses to make stock.
For his pot pies, Pastore doesn’t have leftover Thanksgiving turkey so he brines, poaches and shreds turkey breasts. For the poaching liquid he uses homemade stock, made with turkey or chicken carcasses. He would never use commercially produced stocks. They are too expensive and salty.
At our home, while the Thanksgiving turkey is in the oven, we put a gallon of water into a large stock pot. As the turkey is carved, the bones and carcass go into the stock pot, which simmers uncovered for an hour.
With the table cleared, we strain and reserve the liquid. After refrigerating overnight, the stock is portioned into pint- and quart-sized airtight containers. The stock that isn’t used to make pot pies can be frozen for up to six months.
Clifton’s Turkey Pot Pies
Pastore serves his individual pot pies in wide mouth, 16-ounce glass canning jars. If those are not available, use individual-sized bake-proof bowls and adjust the diameter of the puff pastry rounds accordingly. The rounds should be 3 inches larger than the top diameter of the jar or bowl.
Prepared puff pastry can be purchased in most supermarket refrigerated or frozen food sections.
To create a gluten-free pot pie, omit the puff pastry topping and substitute a corn starch slurry for the roux. Easy to make, corn starch and water are mixed together in equal parts without heating. Add the slurry instead of the flour-based roux as directed below.
Use a vegetable oil such as canola, but not pure olive oil, which is too dominating a flavor.
Only use kosher salt in the brine. Iodized salt has a metallic aftertaste.
All vegetables should be cut the same size to promote even cooking. For added flavors, toss vegetables in a small amount of vegetable oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 F for 10 minutes before putting them into the pot.
The roux and the filling can be prepared as much as a day ahead of the meal. Just before serving, reheat the filling and add English peas and the finishing seasonings before topping the jar with the puff pastry round.
Prep time if using leftover turkey breast: 20 minutes
Cook time if using leftover turkey breast: 45 minutes
Total time if using leftover turkey breast: 65 minutes
Prep time if brining and poaching uncooked turkey breast: 60 minutes plus 8 hours overnight
Cook time if poaching uncooked turkey breast: 90 minutes
Total time if brining and poaching uncooked turkey breast: 2 1/2 hours plus 8 hours overnight
Yield: 8 individual 16-ounce pot pies
Ingredients to brine and poach uncooked turkey breast
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
1 gallon water
8 sprigs fresh thyme, washed, finely chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic (optional)
1/2 orange (optional)
8 sprigs fresh sage (optional)
1 raw turkey breast, 3 to 4 pounds
1 gallon turkey stock, preferably homemade
Directions for poaching uncooked turkey breast
1. Place salt, sugar, seasonings (optional) and water in a large plastic bag or container. Mix well. Submerge raw turkey breast in seasoned water. Seal. Place in large bowl and refrigerate a minimum of 8 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Place plastic bag in sink. Remove turkey breast. Discard seasoned water. Rinse turkey breast with fresh water. Pat dry.
3. Place turkey stock in large stock pot. Simmer. Add brined turkey breast. Cook 1 1/2 hours or until breast reaches an internal temperature of 155 F.
4. Remove breast from stock. Allow to rest 20 minutes. Reserve stock to use for pot pies and refrigerate or freeze for later use.
5. Use or refrigerate poached breast in airtight container.
Ingredients for turkey pot pie
11 ounces unsalted butter
11 ounces all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups yellow onions, medium dice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups celery stalks, medium dice
2 cups peeled carrots, medium dice
1 cup Portobello or shiitake mushrooms, washed, thin sliced (optional)
4 cups shredded turkey breast
3 to 4 cups turkey stock, homemade
1 cup English peas, shelled, washed, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
4 sheets puff pastry, cut into 6” rounds to cover eight 16-ounce glass canning jars
8 rosemary sprigs (optional)
1. To make roux, melt butter over low heat in a saucepan. Sprinkle flour in small amounts to avoid creating clumps. Whisk to incorporate flour into melted butter. Add more flour. Continue whisking until all flour is added. Be careful to keep the roux out of the corners of the pan where it can burn. For added flavor, create a “blond roux” by stirring over medium-low heat until flour is light golden brown. Remove from heat and reserve.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil. Add onions. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook until lightly transparent. Toss to stir. Add celery, carrots and mushrooms (optional). Season in layers with another pinch of salt. Stir well. Sweat vegetables 4 to 5 minutes, being careful not to brown.
3. Add shredded turkey meat and stock.
4. Bring to simmer. Add roux in stages, a small amount each time. Stir well to incorporate. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. If gravy becomes too thick, add small amounts of heated stock.
5. Add peas, salt and pepper to taste and truffle oil (optional). Stir well.
6. Add thyme and parsley. Stir well.
7. Add heavy cream (optional).
8. Preheat oven to 350 F.
9. Arrange glass canning jars on baking tray. Spoon filling into each jar. Fill to top. Carefully lay a piece of puff pastry over the top of each jar. Gently shape the dough onto the top and down the sides of the jar to create a “lid” that will seal in the filling.
10. Whisk eggs together. Use a pastry brush to paint puff pastry lid on top and sides.
11. Place filled canning jars on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven.
12. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown. Garnish each pot pie with a rosemary sprig (optional). Serve hot.
Main photo: Turkey pot pies by chef Andrew Pastore at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt