It started with two requests: I was asked by a Sierra Club member to bring my Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie to the next meeting, which happened earlier this month. Having one beautiful blue pumpkin left in my basement, I thought it was a great idea. Then, my sweetie asked for tuna casserole, not his typical ask. I guess he was in the mood for comfort food, and anytime he asks for a fish dish, I try to oblige. And then, of course, I realized that I had stumbled upon the perfect opportunity for a pot pie. What else was I going to do with that second pie crust and the last little bag of market peas waiting in the freezer?

Now, canned tuna can be a tricky ingredient, for both human health and environmental health. Lots of bad stuff out there—unsustainable fishing practices, poor processing methods, toxic exposure to high levels of mercury and BPA-(Bisphenol A) lined cans. Well, yum. But you can choose wisely and responsibly, if you seek out the right product and make this ingredient a healthy small addition to your mostly plant-based diet. So be sure to see the end of the post from my choice pick for canned tuna: Wild Planet.

And there’s another point to make here. While Don wanted tuna casserole, you may prefer chicken or turkey or just vegetables. Go for it! (That could be my friend Sasi talking from this month’s cooking class at La Vista: courage!) This recipe is a great way to use up leftover chicken pieces, turkey pieces or ham bits. Or, just add more diced vegetables for a vegetarian version—maybe some turnips or leeks or fennel or parsnips from your spring market favorites. Be brave, right Sasi?

Finally, before we begin, you’ll note that I am including a from-scratch Béchamel sauce in this recipe. Well, of course this is a bit more work than you might expect for a humble pot pie. But classic Béchamel is worth every bit of effort. You see, when great chefs go to culinary school, they don’t learn recipes; they learn foundation and technique. White sauces such as Velouté and Béchamel are foundations for all the amazing creations they will perfect during their careers. So while the rest of us are opening our cans of cream of mushroom soup, the great chefs are making Béchamel. Time to kick that soup can.

To make my Béchamel, I used a bain marie, that’s my biggest heat-proof mixing bowl fitted over my stainless-steel Dutch oven, filled a quarter full of steadily simmering water. It is a makeshift double boiler that provides plenty of room for melting and whisking. I highly recommend this method for making such a delicate sauce. See photos below the recipe.

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The Upper Crust

I really like a butter crust for the flakey topper on my pot pies, although a crust made with lard will work fine, if you are not vegetarian. I never use vegetable shortening—just a bit of coconut spread, but if your favorite, never-fail crust uses a vegetable shortening, by all means, use what makes you comfortable. For a great butter-based vegetarian crust, see my recipe for Asparagus Leek Quiche.

Two cans of Wild Planet TunaCan You Trust the Can?

Here is the deal with Wild Planet: it’s a company that shows extreme care in its sourcing of sea food and its commitment to its customers with transparency, honesty and uncompromising product quality. It’s also a top product endorsed by Greenpeace. Nuff said.

The main issues when it comes to any canned seafood, to my way of thinking, are the following:
How was the fish harvested? Wild Planet sources tuna caught only by batch catch or pole and line— considered the very best method for sustainability by a consensus of many Non-Government Environmental Organizations (ENGOs).

Is the source sustainable? The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® Program studies various government and academic data and makes unbiased recommendations according to a consumer-friendly ranking system: green for best choice, yellow for good and red for bad. Wild Planet follows this system sourcing most of their products from green choices, a few from yellow and NONE from red.

What about the Mercury Issue? Wild Planet sources the younger and smaller, migratory tuna that are caught near the surface because of their sustainable fishing methods. These fish (3-5 years of age) have accumulated lower levels of mercury as compared to older and larger tuna (6-12 years old), which live at much lower depths and in a different part of the Pacific Ocean. They test each year to make sure their fish is safe.

And the BPA in those cans? Well, as far as is possible, Wild Planet’s cans used for tuna have no “intentional” BPA. So what does that mean? It means even companies with the highest ethical and environmental standards cannot keep BPA out of the environment completely…or out of our bodies. That’s a hard fact to swallow, but it’s true. Wild Planet does its best, but we have so saturated our environment with toxic plastic that we are now at its mercy. What can be done? In a word: reuse. Avoid ALL disposable plastics—bags, bottles, all of it. Choose glass or wax cartons over plastic jugs. Consider products like DROPPS for your laundry. Your efforts will never be enough to eliminate plastic entirely, but it might save the oceans and your children’s health. NOT KIDDING.

For more information on Wild Planet, check out their lengthy list of FAQ’s.

The four basic steps to making classic Bechamel SauceBéchamel Basics

Yes, once again I’m asking you to make something from scratch, spend considerable time in the kitchen and create something that most people accomplish by opening a can of soup. Trust me. Be Brave. Your beautiful Béchamel with wow your diners—they’ll wonder just what type of creamed soup you used and how they can get some. Smile.
There are four simple steps:
Sauté the aromatics—whatever you choose or just go with a plain roux
Create the roux, which is a must
Add the warm liquid, which could be stock instead of milk and any flavorings
Cook and whisk until thick and velvety.
The possibilities are endless—the foundation for future classic dishes in your kitchen!

What’s in your pot pie?