Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sixty years of Harrow's chicken pot pie. Why?

When I heard that Harrow's Chicken Pies was opening a second location five minutes' drive from our house, I was intrigued.

This family-owned business has been selling their pies in Reading for 60-some years (or 50 or 70, depending on which page of their website you read), longevity that suggested quality.

On Saturday, we got a coupon in the mail for $2 off an order. As it was getting toward lunchtime, and they promised takeout pie, we decided to head over.

The store is on the intersection of Rtes 16 and 38 in Medford, next to a Dunkies and across the street from a Dunkies. It's a small space, mostly occupied by coolers filled with pies of different sizes. We opted for two individual pies with vegetables (you can also get them without).

Now maybe I'm crazy, but to me, "takeout" means "to eat immediately." That's the point; that's what distinguishes a takeout pie from a frozen pie, which is evidently meant for consumption at a later date.

However, it turns out that if you actually want a hot pie, you have to call in your order a half-hour ahead of time, which is how long it takes to heat one up.

(Note to Harrow's: there are now clever machines called "micro-waves." You might could look into them.)

So much for our plan of grabbing a quick pie for lunch. As we were already hungry, we ate something more immediate and postponed the pies until dinner.

And so, that evening, we sat down to chicken pot pie.

The first thing we noticed was the pastry: it was incredibly short and flaky and a little sweet. And about as thick as a postcard.

The second thing we noticed was the sauce: pale, thick, bland, glutinous. I'll just come out and say it: wallpaper paste.

There were several generous chunks of chicken:

And, as promised, vegetables: uniformly diced carrot and cubes of al dente potato.

It's quite possible that Harrow's is the epitome of the Boston chicken pot pie; that its success lies in an understanding of the preferences of its customer base.

(That it was
voted Best in New England by the Phantom Gourmet is a clue in itself.)

But to me, chicken pot pie shouldn't be nondescript; it should be a celebration. It should begin with a mirepoix; there should be pearl onions and peas; the roux should be perfumed with rosemary and thyme.

And the pastry — either puff or pâte brisée — should be thick enough that the exterior is crisp, while the underside becomes a soft sponge that soaks up the flavors of the filling.

At some point soon, I'll show you what I mean.

Labels: , , , ,


Anonymous jo said...

There is nothing that drives my lancashire born husband more insane than hat we call a 'pie' in the states.
First he has an impossible time finding any that have 2 crusts not just one and second the sauce is always too stodgy.
Since I don't like pie crust, yes, i know, I will admit to not making him many pot pies from scratch, but I have taken the task this winter of making a proper pork pie.
There is a little place up in Methuen called Thwaite's that makes the real deal (

3:46 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Ooo! Let me know how your pork pie turns out. I've always wanted to try (using the Be-Ro recipe) but it seems like such an epic task.

I bought some (frozen) ones online last Christmas and for some reason they're still in the freezer. Any idea how long you can safely keep a frozen pie?

And I've heard of Thwaites but never checked it out. thanks for the reminder!

3:38 PM  
Blogger brookem said...

mmmm yummy. i cant believe ive yet to try these!

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

Oh, if only I'd read your post earlier. I noticed it on my drive home tonight so stopped and bought a family sized pie with veg. At the dinner hour they have them hot and ready to go, so we didn't have the wait.

But yes, it is your basic, bland and heavy New England pot pie. At least the kiddo loved it and it made her eat her carrots. I added a bunch of black pepper and a side of lingonberry jam, and it was OK. I was hoping for much better since it's so convenient. Oh well.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you tried the Harrow's chicken pot pies lately ? I have had them several times in the past , but last week I ate , what I will call the "best pie ever " Did they change the recipe ?

9:46 AM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Good to know, anonymous! Could you explain what made it so good this time? I'd be interested to know whether the crust is more generous or whether the sauce is less like wallpaper paste. Or was it just a gut-busting portion?

9:34 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home