Whenever I serve these piping hot pot pies to my family, everyone at the table is initially so quiet– since we’re all so busy plowing through the crisp pastry, uncovering all sorts of savory goodies inside. Usually, it’s not until we reach the half-way mark in our individual dishes, that we come up for air and chat as normal. If you’re in the mood for beef or veal instead of lamb, just substitute an equal amount of cubed chuck or veal shoulder and use all beef or veal stock, in the sauce. And, speaking of stock, although it’s OK to use store-bought puff pastry on top, please use homemade stock in the sauce, since it really will help make these pot pies better than all others. For your convenience, I’ve also provided a “turkey or chicken” pot pie variation.
Forget the marinade ingredients. Using all the same size saucepans, substitute 6 cups chicken stock for the lamb stock and bring it to a brisk boil over medium-high heat (uncovered). Add the diced potatoes to the stock and set the timer for 10 minutes. After 4 minutes have passed, add the carrots and continue to boil. When 6 minutes have passed (4 minutes left), add 4 stalks of trimmed celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick, and cook until the timer sounds. Pour the stock through a sieve, positioned over another bowl, to drain the vegetables and retain the stock. Place the cooked vegetables into a large mixing bowl. Cook the mushrooms in a 12-inch skillet, as directed in the main recipe and add them to the bowl of vegetables with the pearl onions and the peas (omit the cherry tomatoes). Make your sauce as directed in the main recipe, increasing the creme fraiche to 1/2 cup, and pour the sauce over the vegetables. Season well and fold in 5 to 6 cups of diced cooked turkey or chicken. Apply the pastry to the top of your baking dishes, then glaze the pastry and bake, as directed in the recipe featuring lamb.
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Place the meat into a large nonreactive dish and pour in the red wine. Scatter the onion wedges over the top, separating them into strips. Use your hands to help coat the meat with the wine and to disperse the onions. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours, occasionally stirring to redistribute.
First place a medium-mesh sieve over a mixing bowl. Pick the meat out of the wine and drain the pieces on a large doubled sheet of paper towels. Pat meat dry, then sprinkle the pieces with salt and black pepper. Pour the wine through the sieve and discard the onions. Reserve all of the wine. Heat a heavy-bottomed, deep-sided 12-inch skillet over high heat and, when hot, add a thin layer of olive oil. When the oil is hot, brown the lamb, in batches, until deeply browned on all sides (be patient and don’t crowd the pan). Transfer each batch of browned meat to a tray, as you continue to brown the rest. When finished, dump out any oil from the pan, but don’t wipe out the interior. Deglaze the pan, over high heat, with the reserved wine, reducing it to a syrupy 1/2 cup, and reserve.
Bring the stock to a boil in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the reduced wine into the stock, along with the browned meat and bring the liquid to a brisk bubble. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the meat, covered tightly, until meltingly tender, but not dry, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Using a large slotted utensil, transfer the meat to a big bowl. Bring the stock to a rolling boil, over high heat, uncovered. Add the diced potatoes and set your timer for 10 minutes. After 4 minutes have elapsed, add the carrots and cook them with the potatoes until the timer sounds. Meanwhile, position a medium-mesh wire sieve over an empty 2-quart bowl. When the timer goes off, pour the stock into the sieve, allowing it to capture the vegetables. Place the drained vegetables into the bowl with the cooked meat. Leave the stock in the bowl, for now.
First boil the raw onions for 7 minutes, then drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Slice off the root end of each onion and slip off their skins. Heat a 12-inch, heavy-bottomed, deep-sided skillet over high heat and, when hot, add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and cook them, over high heat, until tender and starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in the pearl onions and cook, until any released liquid from the mushrooms totally evaporates and the onions are turning golden, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Empty the onions and mushrooms into the bowl with the meat and other vegetables. Put the pan back on the stove, without wiping out the interior.
Melt the butter in the same 12-inch skillet, over medium heat and, when hot and bubbling, stir in the leeks. Reduce the heat to low and cook the leeks until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and stir in the flour. Cook the vegetable-based “roux,” stirring constantly, for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add only 6 cups of the hot stock and bring it to a brisk boil, uncovered (freeze the rest for another recipe). Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme and creme fraiche (or cream) and simmer 3 more minutes. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Fold in the peas and cherry tomatoes and season again with salt and pepper.
Spoon the meat and vegetable mixture into six individual oven-proof crocks, dividing equally. Let the contents cool completely. Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry, 1/8-inch thick, on a lightly floured surface. Cut out 6 rounds to fit the top of your crocks and cut out a decorative 1/3-inch-wide vent in the center of each round using a tiny pastry cutter (or a thimble). Apply a round of pastry to the top of each filled crock and press the edges of dough onto the outer sides of the rim, helping the dough to adhere. Refrigerate the dishes, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Assemble your egg glaze. Remove the pot pies from the refrigerator and uncover them. Place the crocks on a large shallow baking sheet. Brush the pastry with the egg glaze and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds, if using. Bake the pot pies until the pastry is golden, very crisp and the filling is visibly bubbling through the vents, 35 to 45 minutes . Serve them right away.
The pot pies can be fully assembled and topped with pastry one day ahead and kept refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. Don’t apply the glaze, however, until just before baking.