This afternoon, my daughter called around 5 p.m. (after telling me in the morning she wouldn't be home for dinner) to tell me her plans had been cancelled and could she, instead, bring a co worker for dinner. Oh my! Chicken croquettes were out of the question and so was my Chicken a la King (no pastry shells in the freezer and no vermouth or white wine) Sooo, how about I turn that into a gratin and maybe add a dash of vodka, which I always keep in the freezer! I seldom get caught by surprise, but with this move, which has been hard on both of us, there is no well stocked pantry to speak of; but there is always improvisation and that is where usually some of our most original recipes come from.
This gratin is really a Chicken a la King , an old favorite of the 1950's, which went the way of the quiche of the l980's. Everybody got sick and tired of it, but my family never did and I serve it often, especially to the ladies who lunch. They love it! still, after all these years. In this case, the vodka got the better part of my imagination and I thought of adding a little curry and fennel and pray for the best. After all, who would be the wiser? The result? pretty good, pretty good, with rants and raves from daughter and guest. A nice green salad is all you need to accompany this dish.
P. S. Notice I left out the vodka, that is optional!
1/2 roast chicken
8 TB butter
2 cloves of garlic, mashed and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small box of mushrooms, cut in small pieces
1 small can chopped pimientos
6 TB flour
3 Cups of warm milk
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. curry powder
Salt & Pepper
Extra butter to dot over gratin
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Cut the chicken in one inch pieces and set aside. Add 2 Tb butter to a skillet and saute the garlic and the chopped onions until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, set aside.
In another pan you are going to make a bechamel sauce. Melt the remaining 6 TB of butter, add 6 TB flour and stir with a whisk for a minute (this is called a roux) Add the fennel and curry powder. Mix well. Add the 3 cups of warm milk, a little at a time, and stir until it comes to a boil. Do not let it boil, once you see the first bubbles you are done!
Add the onions and mushrooms to the bechamel, add the chicken pieces, the pimientos and salt and pepper to taste.
Distribute evenly in four gratin dishes, spread Panko to cover and sprinkle a dash of paprika. Dot with butter on top. Cook in a 400 degree oven until it begins to bubble. Place in the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown. Don't answer the phone! Serve immediately.
Cook's Note: You can freeze the gratins before dotting with butter and cooking in the oven. When ready to cook, take out of the oven and cook at 350 instead of 400 degrees, until it starts to bubble. It will take about 45 - 50 minutes.