Much of my cooking involves using up every scrap of food that comes into the kitchen.
And what isn’t repurposed into something edible gets composted. I hate wasting anything. That’s why creamed chicken shows up regularly on the dinner table at our house.
It’s impressive enough for guests, thanks to a preparation that coats the tender chunks of chicken in a luscious béchamel sauce (try adding sautéed mushrooms with a splash of sherry to dress it up even more).
But it’s also comfort food for any weeknight meal in the waning days of winter.
For the chicken itself, you can use leftover roast chicken — something I make about once a week. A roasted chicken always provides a couple of meals, plus bones for stock (see chef’s note). Alternatively, you can poach a few boneless, skinless breasts in a little water or white wine, seasoned with salt and a bay leaf.
When I made this creamed chicken for a dinner party recently, two Australian friends informed me that a favorite childhood dish from Down Under was chicken Mornay, a similar dish with a cheese sauce that their mothers made using leftover chicken.
Economy in the kitchen is clearly universal.
3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 2 cups of leftover roasted chicken)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups cold whole milk
1 pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
1 dash of paprika
If poaching chicken:
1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If poaching chicken, bring 2 to 3 inches of water or white wine to a simmer in a medium saucepan and add salt and bay leaf. Poach the chicken breasts until done, about 10 minutes. Remove from the liquid and allow to cool while making the sauce.
In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides and add the flour, whisking for about one minute. Add the cold milk and whisk thoroughly to remove any lumps. Cook until bubbly, at which point it will thicken. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Cut chicken breasts into large chunks and fold them into the sauce. Transfer the entire mixture to a buttered gratin dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and paprika and bake in the oven until bubbly and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve with rice and a salad.
Chef’s note: Save the rinsed bones and carcasses from all of your chicken dishes and keep them in the freezer until you have enough to make a good stock.
Also save carrot, onion and celery scraps. When it’s time, dump everything in a stockpot, add enough water to just cover. Add a pinch of salt, a bay leaf, a few garlic cloves and a small handful of black peppercorns and simmer for three hours over very low heat.
Strain and freeze in plastic containers to use in soups, risottos, sauces and more.