My mother used to make this for special occasions—or when someone was feeling particularly low. It’s one of my favorite meals, and I made it once for Erin and Rob Wells when they came to stay with us. Months ago, when I started this newsletter and asked friends for suggestions of what to write, Rob requested that I publish this recipe. It’s in the first edition of Comfortably Yum and will certainly be in the second.
Mornay sauce is just a basic béchamel enriched with Gruyère and (often) Parmesan cheese. The thick, creamy sauce enrobes each tender piece of chicken. (You can also use leftover turkey.) Broccoli or spinach are the usual accompaniments, and we always serve some tangy-sweet, garnet-colored cranberry chutney alongside as well.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1 teaspoon ground pepper (white, if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
8 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 cups chopped cooked chicken
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté it over until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the pepper, nutmeg, and parsley, and then add the flour by tablespoons, alternating it with a half-cup of milk at a time, whisking with a flat wooden spoon all the time.
Cook until thick and bubbly and the floury taste is gone. Turn off heat, then add the cheese and stir until it’s melted and incorporated. Taste sauce carefully and add salt, if needed. Fold in the chicken and stir well.
Pour into a 9x13” baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Serves 6-8.