Easy Creamed Chicken

When our family had chicken for dinner when I was growing up, there was seldom anything left over.  Today, however, Jerri and I are often confronted by half a chicken on the platter.  We remove the meat from the bones, simmer the carcass, strain the broth and find creative ways to make use of those leftovers.

We make chicken sandwiches, chicken salad and chicken tetrazzini with the meat and variations on chicken soup with the broth.  Very little goes to waste in the Rang household.

I vaguely remember occasionally having cubed chicken or turkey in a white sauce for lunch.  If it was turkey, it was probably created by Winifred Larson, our cook at Blair School.  She ordered the turkeys through the National School Lunch Act, which provided commodities to help public schools provide nutritious meals for students at low prices.  The more I think about those lunches on cold winter days in that white-washed basement, the more I wanted to try my hand at creating a dish like I remembered.

As a thrifty housewife, Jerri makes a delicious Turkey a la King, but her recipe is more complicated than my creation.  Also, mine is made with leftover chicken instead of turkey.  Here is what I did, and Jerri judged it an unqualified success.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup hot water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

4 T butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. white pepper

1/8 tsp. tarragon

Dash of nutmeg

1 cup half and half

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

PROCEDURE:

Dissolve the bouillon cubes in the hot water.  If necessary, you can heat the water in your microwave until the cubes dissolve.  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and microwave a cup of half and half until it is warm.

Melt the butter in a two-quart saucepan over moderate heat.  Stir the flour, salt, pepper, tarragon and nutmeg into the butter.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture continuously for three or four minutes while it bubbles in the pan, then add the half and half.  Keep stirring until you have a smooth sauce.   

Add the chicken and cook the mixture until the meat is hot.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve over toast, rice or potatoes for a simple lunch or dinner.

NOTES:  if you have any available, you can substitute a cup of chicken broth for the water and bouillon cubes.  I use the cubes and water to avoid opening a quart box of broth when I need only a cup.

Leftover rotisserie chicken is especially good for this recipe.

Jerri’s Turkey Dressing

I don’t know how my Mom made turkey dressing.  At first I was too young to be interested in something as dull as bread stuffed into a turkey.  Later, when I was a teenager, I was deer hunting with my Dad and his friends on Thanksgiving Day.  By 1:00 PM, our deadline to be back for dinner, the turkey was out of the oven and the dressing was done.  At Christmas I was usually busy with gifts brought by Santa or from grandparents and various aunts and uncles.

Jerri has been roasting our Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys for fifty years, and they taste just as good as the ones my mother cooked.  The dressing is just as delicious too, so I finally decided to get Jerri’s recipe.  “I don’t have a recipe,” she said, so I offered to watch her make her dressing and record what she did.  Determining quantities was tricky, but with only a few snarls, we managed it, and the dressing was as delicious as usual.

Jerri starts her turkey dressing the evening before the holiday dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

About 14 cups (3 1/2 quarts) dried white bread cubes

3 1/2 – 4 cups chicken broth

1 tsp. ground sage

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 – 1 tsp. salt (depends on the broth and butter)

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 cup finely chopped celery

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 T butter

PROCEDURE:

The night before you make the dressing, cut a loaf of white bread into half-inch cubes. Spread them in a couple of nine by thirteen-inch baking pans and warm your oven to 115º or 120º.  Turn off the oven and set the pans on the center shelf.  If you want, you can stir the bread cubes after an hour or so.  The cubes should be fairly dry when you mix the dressing.  If some are still a bit soft, that is okay.

The next morning, clean and finely chop the celery and onion to about an eighth-inch dice.  Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook the vegetables until they are soft but not browned.

Dressing ready to mixPut the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt and spices over them. Add the celery and onion along with a cup of broth and begin mixing everything gently together.  Continue adding broth and mixing the dressing until all the cubes have been dampened but not mashed.

We always bake some of the dressing stuffed inside the turkey, which is why we call it stuffing.  Here is what Jerri does.  Season the inside of the turkey cavity with about three-fourths-teaspoon of salt and pack it lightly with dressing.  Put the extra dressing in a casserole or soufflé dish to bake separately.  Jerri puts this dressing in about an hour before the turkey is done.

While the turkey is roasting there is plenty of time to peel the potatoes, cook the cranberry sauce, mix the green bean casserole and wash the sweet potatoes that will go in the oven about an hour and a half before the turkey is done.  The pie and dinner rolls were baked the day before.  Jerri will rouse me to carve the turkey and mash the potatoes while she sets everything out.

Or almost everything:  One year in a wicked moment, I did end my dinner prayer with “And Lord, please make the salt and pepper appear on our table.”  Jerri was not amused.

NOTES:  Jerri uses two cans of chicken broth for her dressing.  As you can see from the photo, she sprinkles the spices directly from the bottles, so the measures are more art than science.  “I never make it the same way,” she says again, and often she adds something weird, like seasoning salt, but it always tastes wonderful.