Balance. As you may have noticed, few words have filled these pages over the last several months. Balance. It’s something that hasn’t been in my life of late. Sadly, take-out food has been the norm for quick nourishment. I haven’t had the pleasure of tinkering about in my kitchen, making creations that warm my soul and make me sigh with happiness. Balance. You see, a few months ago I took a new path – more like returned to a well-worn path – and started a new job back in the home building industry. Before I started my new job, this meal was our Sunday dinner. Life has changed, all for the better, and I must find a new balance on this path. It will happen and food is usually what anchors me in a busy and fulfilling work life. Balance. This family recipe is a start.
Along with creating soulful food in my kitchen, family recipes offer me a great level of comfort and satisfaction, and they help me foster the continuation of a legacy, a connection through food. This one is a childhood favorite and has celebrated many occasions. I am not sure where it came from but what’s important to me is that it’s from our family and my life. Chicken Mornay is made from tender chicken breasts that are browned and then oven cooked with broccoli, mushrooms and a creamy, cheesy sherry sauce that becomes a thick gravy that begs to be scooped up with every bite. It’s a classy dish that is easy to prepare and make. First, I gather all the ingredients, get everything prepped and start with the broccoli.
The broccoli florets are par boiled to speed up the cooking time. A spider, typically used for fried foods, is a helpful tool to remove the broccoli when done. Transfer the florets to an ice bath (fill a large bowl with water and a good layer of ice cubes – the cold water stops the cooking process for the broccoli and will help retain the color) and let sit for 2 minutes, remove and drain and transfer to a cooking dish.
After transferring the par-boiled florets to the cooking dish, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange the florets around the perimeter of the dish.
The next step is to brown the chicken. The chicken cutlets need to be dredged in flour and I find the easiest way to do this is to use a sandwich paper bag (available at your local grocery story or Costco). Add the flour and spices to a bag and gently shake to stir, add one cutlet at a time, shake well to coat, remove with tongs and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining pieces and toss/recycle the bag when you are done. It makes clean up super simple.
After the chicken is browned, add to the middle of the cooking dish. Now it’s time to make the star of the recipe, the sauce!
See all those crunchy bits on the bottom of the pan? That is pure flavor, so don’t wipe it out.
The sherry and water are added to the hot pan and brought to a boil, while scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the bits, also called deglazing.
Flavor note: The original recipe calls for American cheese and I made a substitution with a good quality white American from Boarshead. It makes a notable flavor difference.
Have leftover mushrooms? Here’s a clever idea for storing them:
Keep them in a small paper sandwich bag and store them in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. They will keep for about a week. For easy identification, I like to handwrite the mushroom type and date on the outside of the bag.
Another component of the sauce is a roux, which is a great thickening agent to keep for sauces, gravies and soups. For me, it’s the best, surefire tool (and lump-free method) that makes me look like a pro. Here is a trick from the culinary world using just two ingredients, butter and flour:
When the sauce is finished, it is poured over top of the chicken and broccoli and it all cooks for 20 minutes. Serve bubbling hot and savor the flavors!
Balance. It’s always a moving target but at least I know with homemade food I can satisfy and nourish my soul. As I settle into my new groove, I look forward to sharing my stories more often and reconnecting with food – and you – again.
Chicken Mornay (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Makes 2 servings
Oven: 375º | Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 20 minutes
2 cups broccoli florets
1 large chicken breast, cut in thirds lengthwise
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Roux: 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons flour
½ cup cream sherry
¼ cup water
1 ¾ cup milk (used 1%) – warm for 2 minutes in microwave on full power
6 slices American cheese (used Boarshead brand), plus for topping
8 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
Pinch of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Heat oven to 375º
Broccoli: In a medium soup pot, fill ¾ full with water and bring to a boil. After water has come to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the broccoli florets; par-boil for 4 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath (large bowl filled with water and a good layer of ice cubes) and let sit for 2 minutes. Drain, transfer to an 8” x 8” cooking dish and toss with a small amount of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Arrange around the perimeter of the cooking dish.
Chicken: Heat a medium skillet to medium-high and add the oil. While the pan is heating, add the flour and spices to a small paper bag and dredge each piece of chicken, dusting off any excess flour. Transfer to a plate and continue with the remaining chicken pieces. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes until golden brown, turn over (add a bit more oil if needed) and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer chicken pieces to the middle of the cooking dish.
Sauce: For the roux, add the butter to a ramekin or small glass bowl. Microwave on 10 second increments until the butter is melted. Add the flour and stir well, set aside.
Using the same skillet that the chicken was cooked in, turn the heat to medium and add the sherry and water to de-glaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes to reduce. Add the roux and stir well until it is completed incorporated into the liquid. Add the milk and whisk together; bring to a boil to thicken, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the cheese, mushrooms and spices, and stir well to melt the cheese.
Pour sauce over the chicken and broccoli in the cooking dish and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Serve hot.
In April I couldn’t resist capturing this playful shot of Murphy after he buried his face in the snow. Thankfully the ground is now covered with green grass and the tree leaves are almost fully grown.