Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Did you eat creamed chicken growing up? Doesn’t it sound like one of those terrible 1950s cafeteria dishes? And certainly, it may not be fancy; it may be white and bland and a little gloppy. But I seriously love it, in that comfort-food way. It was one of my favorite meals as a kid; my mom would make it as minimally as possible, usually just chicken and mushrooms and white sauce. The adults would eat it over toast, but I abhorred soggy bread, so I just had my creamed chicken in a bowl, with buttered toast on the side (many pieces of buttered toast; I loved buttered toast).

I started making this slightly thinner, more colorful version in my early, post-college days of cooking for myself. As per the recipe (which may be from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, but I’m not sure), I’d pour it into a baking dish, cut refrigerated Pillsbury biscuit dough into quarters, and arrange them atop the creamed chicken to approximate a poor woman’s potpie. It was nifty, and actually pretty tasty. But now I try to avoid dough that comes in tubes, and A claims he doesn’t like potpie (I think he’s wrong, but one step at a time), so I hadn’t made this recipe since I moved to California. I still crave creamed chicken, however, especially when I’m sick or the weather is cold. When I was in Minnesota for Christmas, my mom confessed a similar craving, and so we whipped some up for dinner one night, and it was so good, I’ve been wanting more ever since. Eventually I decided to just override A’s protests (ah, the perks of being the menu planner, grocery buyer, and chef!) and make creamed chicken whether he liked it or not. I thought about going whole hog and just making a potpie by draping frozen puff pastry over the top, but I wanted leftovers, and wet puff pastry makes terrible leftovers. Besides, if I just served the creamed chicken in bowls (with some bumpy rolls on the side), it was easier to persuade A that it’s really just a creamier version of chicken-noodle soup, sans noodles. And it is, basically. And it’s delicious. A agrees.

When I used to make this recipe when I lived alone, I’d just poach a few chicken breasts to get the necessary meat. Now, I’ll either use the same method I use for chicken-noodle soup (boil a raw cut-up chicken to make broth, then when it’s cooked and strained, pick the meat off the bones and save it), or I’ll just save some meat when I roast a chicken for a recipe (chickens are so big nowadays, neither A nor I can finish a breast in one sitting, so any leftover pieces of meat get stripped from the breast and saved in the freezer until I’ve accumulated enough).

You can gussy this up however you like. I used to use frozen veggies (the ol’ corn, peas, and carrots mixture); now I use fresh ones (carrots, green beans, celery). My mom uses canned mushrooms, though I prefer fresh. I’ve used both dried and fresh thyme; you could even try a different herb. You can add more broth to make it soupier, or more milk to make it creamier, or less liquid to make it thicker. You can add a pastry crust, use the nifty cut-up biscuit method, serve over toast or biscuits, or eat with a spoon. This is humble food; I won’t judge you.

10 ounces mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen (e.g., carrots, corn, peas, green beans, celery)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped mushrooms
¼ cup butter
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 cups chicken broth
¾ cup milk
3 cups cubed cooked chicken
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
If making potpie, 1 package refrigerated biscuits or 1 puff pastry crust

1. If vegetables are frozen, cook them according to package directions and drain. If they’re fresh, you’ll probably want to blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until they’re tender. (Unless it’s celery—try sautéing that with the onion and mushrooms in the next step.)

2. In a saucepan, cook onion and mushrooms in butter over medium heat until tender. Stir in flour, salt, thyme, and pepper. Add broth and milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in drained vegetables, chicken, and parsley; cook until bubbly.

3. If you’re making creamed chicken, you’re done. If you want potpie, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and pour the creamed chicken into a 2-quart baking dish.

4. If using refrigerated biscuits, cut them into quarters and arrange atop chicken mixture in baking dish. If using a pastry crust, place it atop the chicken. Bake about 15 minutes or until crust/biscuits are golden.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes

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