I’ve been wanting to write a post about kitchen failures for a long time. I’m not talking about under seasoning a piece of chicken or overboiling an egg. I’m talking epic failures. The ones where you spend days shopping and prepping for a recipe, only to have it completely flop, with absolutely no shot at redemption.
Yup. They happen. And they happen to everyone.
Chefs are no exception. It’s just easier in a restaurant kitchen to pass off your mess to a dishwasher, head to the walk-in, grab a new batch of ingredients and try again. I spend a lot of time planning, styling and editing to make everything on this blog appear so effortless and beautiful (sidebar: it wasn’t always beautiful). But the truth is, it’s far from effortless. I mess things up as much – if not more! – as I get them right, and it’s about time I let you know.
These pot pies? They flopped. And I was pissed. Those were perfectly good vegetables that I ruined. And I shelled out $12 bucks for that fancy all-butter puff pastry! We ate them anyway, because I refuse to waste food unless it’s reeeaaallly bad, and these were at least still edible. But I hate-ate them. I became more annoyed with every bite.
You see, what had happened was… Since this was supposed to be a “spring” chicken pot pie, it needed to be much lighter than my classic, a fall staple. I set out to make the filling luxurious and creamy without being heavy. I opted to forgo the usual roux based veloute and just melted in some mascarpone cheese instead. I tasted the sauce, and I loved it. It was exactly what I was going for, but I worried about the consistency after baking. I wondered what I could use to stabilize the sauce without compromising it’s light texture. “I know! Egg yolks!” They’ll add body and richness and will hold the sauce together in the oven. So I stirred them in, filled the ramekins, topped them with pastry and baked those bad boys up.
What resulted was a totally broken, watery, eggy “sauce” that surrounded the vegetables and chicken. It was gross, and I felt defeated. I wasted half of my day on these stupid things! And this was supposed to be our dinner. I was facing a massive pile of dishes in the sink, a counter covered in flour and rogue vegetables scattered all over the floor. All I could think was “FAIL.”
Chaser insisted they didn’t taste so bad. And really, they didn’t. The flavors were spot on. The chicken was moist, the vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the pastry was buttery, puffed and crisp. It was just the texture of the “sauce” (I can’t even call it that) that was so off-putting. The pictures still turned out lovely, though. You’d never know that’s a really funky filling in there, would you? That’s the funny thing about food photography. Just because food looks delicious doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes what you’re looking at is actually made of plastic, or it’s a pot pie with a mix of egg chunks, oil and water pretending to be a sauce.
The good news is that I got back on my horse and corrected the recipe a few days later. Turns out, you do need a roux, and the egg yolks are just bad idea jeans. I love a classic pot pie, but this version is the one you want to be eating right now. The best spring veggies, a light and silky sauce, tender chicken and a hit of lemon and chives to wake it all up, with just enough crispy pastry on top. Summer is right around the corner and we don’t need to be filling up on all that extra crust. Plus, buying pastry from the store, as opposed to making it from scratch, leaves much more time for digging in the garden.
…You are planting a garden this summer, aren’t you? We can talk about garden fails another time. I have lots and lots to share about that.
Failure in the kitchen – and in life! – is inevitable. Don’t let it intimidate you. Look for the lessons. They’re always tucked in there somewhere. You can only learn so much about cooking from a text book or a video. You have to try, and you have to fail. How else would I have known that a sauce of mascarpone and egg yolks would turn into a curdled disaster?
Even though I’ve failed over and over again – and I know I’m never going to stop failing – it’s still hard to accept sometimes. Failing can feel like a big ole waste of time. But it’s not, as long as you look for the lesson. When you think about it, the failures are actually far more valuable than the successes. It’s all about perspective .
One Year Ago: Sweet Pea Gnocchi with Tarragon Pea Cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large leek, white and light green parts diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 1/2 cups carrots, diced
- 1 cup radishes, diced
- 1 cup asparagus, diced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup homemade or low sodium chicken stock*
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste*
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups diced or shredded chicken
- 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry (such as Darfour)
- flour, for rolling
- 1 egg, whisked together with 1 teaspoon water
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the leeks for one minute, add the carrots, and saute for about two minutes more. Add the radishes and asparagus and saute for one minute.
- Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir until evenly distributed. Add the chicken stock, turn the heat to high, and stir until it comes to a boil and starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, then turn off the heat. Stir in the mascarpone until it's fully melted and incorporated. Gently fold in the chicken, frozen peas, lemon zest, lemon juice and chives. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Divide the filling amongst 6 small ramekins. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the puff pastry to even out any folds and make it slightly thinner. Cut the pastry into 6 squares and cut a slit in the center of each. Place the pastry squares over each ramekin, pressing down gently around the lip and letting the excess fall over the sides. Brush the tops lightly with egg wash, then place the ramekins on a large sheet pan. Alternatively, you can pour the filling into a large casserole dish and place the whole sheet of pastry on top.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Allow the pot pies to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- * Salt content of commercial chicken broths and stocks will vary with the brand, so start with a little bit of salt, taste, and adjust as needed