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Chicken Chunks in White Sauce


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Apparently last scallop trial got me a case of shellfish poisoning -- not fun.

So, instead of scallops in a sauce, tried breast of chicken.

Here's a picture:


So, how to make it better?

Here's what I did:

Bought 5 pounds of "split breast halves" which was the breast parts from three chickens, that is, six pieces. Each piece had skin and ribs.

Separated meat from the skin and bones. Put skin and bones in a 3 quart pot, covered with water, simmered about 30 minutes to make a chicken broth, and took 1 C.

Diced the rest of the chicken (see picture).

Prepared a mirepoix of 2 pounds of finely diced yellow globe onion and 1 pound each of thinly sliced carrots, celery, and mushrooms. In an 8 quart pot, added mushrooms and water just to cover and simmered until mushrooms were shrunken. Added onions, carrots, celery, to get a concentrated broth, without more water, simmered about 30 minutes to get mirepoix cooked. Took out 1 C of vegetable broth.

In a 5 quart pot, added 2 C of Chardonnay, the 1 C of chicken broth, the 1 C of vegetable broth, 3 bay leaves, 1 t of dried thyme leaves, and 12 pepper corns.

Added diced chicken, heated with constant stirring to 170 F. Dumped pot contents into a colander set in a bowl. Discarded bay leaves.

Added poaching liquid in bowl to 5 quart pot and reduced slowly to 1 1/2 C.

In a 3 quart pot, made a blond roux of 1/4 pound of butter and 10 T of all purpose flour. While roux still bubbling, added reduced, simmering poaching liquid all at once and whipped until smooth (sauce was quite thick). In steps, added 1 1/2 C simmering whole milk, 1 C whipping cream, and 4 egg yolks, each all at once, with thorough whipping after each step. After whipping cream, temperature was 140 F. Also added 1 T salt and 1 1/3 T lemon juice, both to taste.

With constant whipping, heated slowly to 185 F at which time sauce was bubbling fairly vigorously. Removed sauce from heat.

Sauce had good texture.

In 5 quart pot, combined poached chicken, 2 C, drained, of the mirepoix and mushrooms, and sauce. Mixed. Got about 3 1/2 quarts. Heated slowly, covered.

Served as in the picture.

Eating the serving, concluded that could use more vegetables so added another 2 C, drained. Mixed, heated through again. Ate another serving; additional vegetables helped and were not excessive.

Color is not so attractive (keeping the liquid in which poached the mushrooms may be part of the cause; don't keep that liquid?). The vegetables help the flavor. There's a lot of flavor. Apparently due to the heating to 185 F with constant whipping, the sauce with the egg yolks is relatively stable (that is, resists separating into butter fat, water, and cooked egg yolks) for such a hot custard sauce.

But, in total, it could better in appearance and especially in flavor.


Edited by heidih
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What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Instead of poaching the chicken I might first marinate it in salt, pepper and minced garlic, and brown off (can finish poaching and cook through in the broth).

To the sauce, perhaps some fresh thyme and/or a scraping of fresh nutmeg would be enjoyable. Paprika can help some with color issues in gray sauces and add a nice flavor as well.

Sorry about the food poisoning, and hope you're recovered.

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You mentioned marinating: Yes, the texture of the chicken could be improved, and marinating, with salt, that is, a 'brine', should help. I've never marinated chicken; maybe I should!

Good news: The chicken chunks were not all hard and dry from over cooking. Bad news: The chunks were not 'succulent' or spontaneously separating along the muscle fibers. Marinating in brine, etc. might help the texture.

Some long sous vide heating might also help the texture of the chicken, but for that I would need a constant temperature water bath and have yet to construct one!

The step of saute of the chunks sounds promising: I omitted some data I got from some earlier work with chicken. Basically I took a 14" Chinese steel wok with about 1 C of cooking oil and, outdoors, on a propane fueled burner intended for deep frying turkeys (claims 170,000 BTUs per hour), did a light saute of cut chicken pieces (wings, drumsticks, thighs, breast halves, backs) and, separately, onion, carrot, celery, and mushroom pieces.

Lessons: (1) When made a stock of the chicken pieces, got nearly no 'scum'. So, apparently the light saute in the oil was enough to 'set' the chicken proteins and reduce scum formation. (2) The oil got some unbelievable amount of flavor from both the chicken and the vegetables. Used some of that oil along with butter in the roux and got MUCH more sauce flavor. Broadly a suggestion is that such fat, used in roux, can provide much more sauce flavor than water based liquids.

So, for the light saute, use the same butter will use in the roux! Also, soften the vegetables in that butter! Or, if suspect that chicken scum would contaminate the fat, then saute the chicken in just cooking oil and discard it and saute the vegetables in the butter to be used in the roux!

For the present dish, I was poaching raw chicken chunks, and no doubt they wanted to throw off 'scum' which, in the procedure I used, I had no opportunity to skim. So, likely I have the scum in the final dish, and it may be hurting the flavor. So, if my lessons from the wok experience are applicable, doing a light saute of the chicken may 'set' the proteins, cause the chicken chunks not to release scum into the poaching liquid, and improve the flavor of the final sauce and dish.

You mentioned garlic. I intended to include some with the vegetables but just neglected to do so -- an error. I agree that garlic might help.

I didn't think of the paprika and nutmeg. They might be terrific. I was intending a light colored sauce, like I got doing much the same with scallops, but just accepting a darker sauce and paprika and nutmeg might be an even better direction. I don't know why the sauce color is so dark; my guess is the water from simmering the mushrooms. So, I've been thinking I should discard that water and just keep the cooked, shrunken mushrooms.

I still have about 3 quarts of this dish for dinners (needs improving but is good enough to eat) over the next week or so but will need more and do another trial soon!

From the shellfish poisoning, a month ago, have nearly fully recovered; maybe will fully recover.


Edited by heidih
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What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Ahh, the once-perennial favorite of fundraisers everywhere--Chicken à la King. Google that phrase, and you'll find a few variations. Just ignore any mention of canned soups.

A little cayenne can bring the flavors out a bit, and a parsley garnish at the end could brighten it up, both visually and in terms of flavor.

I'm not sure why you're thickening the sauce with both flour and egg yolks. I would pick one or the other.

Elizabeth David has a good basic recipe for braised chicken in a custard based sauce called simply "Le Poulet à la Crème" in French Country Cooking, thickened with egg yolks and cream and flavored with a squeeze of lemon juice at the end, which can be a surprising flavor in a cream sauce. I've done it adding some lemon zest as well to bring that flavor out.

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Chicken a la king. One of those much maligned dishes of yesteryear that I have come to miss. As I recalled, chicken a la king always included peas and pimentos.

Going against this thread's title, I'd make the above dish with pan gravy from the scrapings of the sauteed chicken, mushrooms and onions.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."



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You most likely need a sharp and/or sour taste to round out the flavour profile.

Lemon juice was mentioned above but I'd probably go for sour cream/creme fraiche added just before serving and stirred through.

You could also add some mustard to the dish to give both sharp and hot.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I agree with Sony that browning the chicken first is preferable. I also prefer just thigh meat. I made a creamy chicken dish from Normandy (with hard cider and Calvados) just yesterday and, as I write, am polishing off the leftovers. Scrumptious. Nickrey is right about the addition of a little bit of sharpness from the creme fraiche, especially to offset the sweet of cider and Calvados:

Chicken with Calvados & Creme Fraiche, based on recipe from Jane Sigal's Normandy Gastronomique

4 lbs or so of chicken pieces

4 Tbsp. clarified butter (I used duck fat instead)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. flour

1 1/2 cups dry hard cider

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup Calvados

1 heaping cup creme fraiche

salt and pepper

Wash, dry and season chicken with salt. Brown on all sides in duck fat and remove to platter. Saute onion and carrot until onion is translucent. Pour off excess fat. Sprinkle vegetables with flour and cook until flour browns slightly, 2 or 3 minutes. Add cider and stock. Return chicken to pan. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Heat Calvados in saucepan, lighting with care, and cook to reduce by half. Add to chicken and continue cooking until chicken very tender (10 to 15 minutes more). Remove chicken and keep warm.

Bring cooking liquid to boil and simmer until reduced by half. Strain liquid into heavy saucepan. Add creme fraiche and simmer to reduce by a third. Season to taste. Pour over chicken. I served with a saffron rice.

Quite simple, really. And, like most everything of this sort, improves with age!

Edited by kitwilliams (log)


"I'm bringing pastry back"


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If the texture of the chicken is the primary concern, one strategy is to take a cue from the Chinese and try velveting.

Another thing I was thinking is that the trimmings from 5 lbs. of chicken breasts may not have enough firepower to make a very good stock.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Forget the damn blonde roux and cook it 'til it gets some decent color...browned things taste better. I've never found white chunks of chicken floating in a light sauce to be anything other than institutional. Throw in a bunch of chopped green onions (aka scallions) at the end, and previous posters are right: it will need some acid. A tiny bit of peeled, seeded, chopped tomato, simmered in the stock? A bit of tarragon vinegar?

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I would brown the chicken breast meat - whole - in butter, then cut up. Set aside and add to the sauce late. Also brown the mushrooms separately and add late to the finished sauce. After adding both, I'd simmer just a few minutes to heat through, but not really cook. ALSO I would use only flour to thicken the sauce and skip the egg yolks - the sauce looks too thick to me. And throw in a good handful of chopped fresh parsley with the chicken and mushrooms.

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