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Grown Up Kid Food: Chicken and Pasta in Mornay Sauce (Gourmet Mac 'n' Cheese)

Mac 'n' Cheese is an American staple... but it was French first! There's been a bit of controversy on the interwebs lately regarding food colouring additives in Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese (which is not the only reason you should never eat it).



Chicken and Pasta in Mornay Sauce



I made this for Alex (my 3 year old's) lunch today. It took less than half an hour, which included the time to figure out the recipe proportions and tend to a somewhat unhappy baby (a lot less time than it took to write this post). This is such an easy (albeit high caloric) dinner- it's just 1 lb of pasta with a bag of frozen vegetables, baked chicken tenders, and a white cheese sauce. Sounds more complicated than it is.


Ingredients


1.5 lb raw chicken tenders

1 lb pasta
12 oz frozen organic corn *, or other vegetable
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup white flour
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
1/2 lb block sharp white cheddar cheese, hand grated 
2 tsp Organic "Better than Bouillon" chicken base
Olive oil
Mrs Dash, salt, black pepper, white pepper, pinch of nutmeg
1 Bay leaf


Bake the chicken


1 package raw chicken tenders, about 1.5 lb
Mrs Dash, original blend (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt
Dash of olive oil



Arrange and season the chicken tenders


Arrange the chicken in a pyrex dish, or similar, and sprinkle with some olive oil and the spices. Bake uncovered in a 425 °F oven for approximately 18 minutes. 
Shred the chicken in the dish and let it sit in its juices to cool while preparing the Mornay sauce (Béchamel, plus cheese).

Boil the pasta


1 lb pasta

12 oz frozen vegetable (I used organic frozen corn but you could use any vegetable. Frozen artichokes defrosted and chopped would work well here)

Once the pasta is cooked, blanch the frozen vegetables for a minute in the pot of boiling water, just before draining.




Blanch the frozen vegetables in the pasta water


Make the Mornay Sauce


1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp)

1/2 cup white flour (4 tbsp)
4 cups milk (heated, optionally)
2 tsp "Better than Bouillon" chicken base (the organic one doesn't have hydrogenated oil)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
1 bay leaf
White pepper, to taste (I used both black and white)
Pinch of nutmeg

"Mornay sauce" is simply a white sauce (Béchamel), with added cheese.

You begin the sauce by melting the butter in a large and deep saucepan. Be sure you do not let the butter brown. 



Melt the butter, without browning


Immediately add the 1/2 cup of white flour to the pan of melted butter. Vigorously mix the butter and flour together until they form a thick paste, called a roux. Continue to cook the roux for another 1-2 minutes, until it becomes fragrant. Stir it continuously in the pan (medium heat) so that it does not burn. I suggest using a wooden spoon at this stage to prevent the roux from getting stuck in the whisk (as seen in image below).




Make the roux


At this point, you have the option of adding heated milk (helps prevent lumping) or cold. I always use cold but find that pouring it slowly on the empty part of the pan heats it sufficiently. It's crucial that you add the milk VERY SLOWLY in the beginning, roughly 2 tbsp at a time. You will have to stir vigorously, as the roux will swell and absorb the milk very quickly. Continue this way until the roux becomes a sludge, at which point you should switch to using a whisk. You can add the milk faster once the lumps have disappeared. Using the whisk in a scrambling motion helps to smooth the sauce.




Slowly add the milk to form a sludgy paste


Once you've added all of the milk, mix in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano and 2 tsp (or more, to taste) of reduced chicken base ("Better than Bouillon" brand), white pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Add the bay leaf, which adds a pleasantly distinct savoury taste. Let it simmer and bubble on low/medium heat until the sauce thickens (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning and a film from forming on the top. Note that the sauce will thicken significantly after it cools, so don't worry if it's a little thinner than you'd like. 


Stir the sauce while it bubbles and thickens


Assemble the Dish

Add the shredded chicken with juices to the sauce, and then the pasta/ vegetable mix (chopped crispy bacon would be really good in this, it's not as though it's a low calorie meal). Lastly, mix in the 1/2 lb grated sharp cheddar. Serve immediately. Feeds 4.


Add the grated cheddar at the end, so that it melts

* Most non-organic corn grown in the USA is GMO.

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