8 September 2020: Roast Chicken, Leftovers, and Biscuits
One of the most comforting things that I do in my kitchen is roast a chicken. There's something about the process that soothes and reassures like nothing else. Until recently, however, it was a comfort that had its limits.
While the process and the first perfect slices with their sliver of crispy skin and dribble of silky gravy are indeed an unparalleled comfort, even a small bird is more than my two-person household can consume in two meals. After the second day, what's left rapidly starts losing its appeal.
And as its allure dwindled, finding ways to rejuvenate it so that not even a scrap was wasted was a challenge. Even sharply reminding myself that there were hungry people who'd welcome stale leftovers didn't help. The prolonged pandemic quarantine changed all that.
I've cooked every day of my adult life, which is longer than I care to think about, so having to be in the kitchen every day was already routine. The big change was that I nearly doubled the time I spent there. Suddenly, having leftovers to deal with is no longer a challenge, but a blessing, even and especially a roasted chicken after its second day. It means a welcome shortcut is at hand.
Add in the fact that the pandemic has caused our grocery bills to skyrocket, wasting food only because we're tired of it or not feeling creative is no longer merely self-indulgent and socially irresponsible: It's taking a serious bite out of a food budget that's already being strained.
Creamed chicken with biscuits has become one of my favorite ways of using up that leftover chicken. As summer wanes, so has our taste for the usual warm weather ways of recycling them cold in a salad or sandwich, even given the dozens of possible variations those options offer. But while something warm is appealing, it's still summer, and too steamy outside to contemplate heating the oven a second time for a hearty casserole or pot pie.
Chicken and Biscuits
This gives that pot pie comfort without the prolonged baking. Yes, the biscuits have to be baked, but that takes only eight minutes as opposed to half an hour or more for a pie or casserole.
2 large Cream Biscuits (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or rendered fat from the roast chicken
½ cup small-diced yellow onion or shallot
2 large carrots peeled and large diced
1 large or 2 medium ribs celery, washed, strung, and large diced
2 tablespoons instant-blending or all-purpose flour
1¼-2 cups chicken stock, heated (see step 2)
¼-½ cup leftover chicken gravy (optional)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Whole nutmeg in a grater
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup cooked green peas
2 cups diced leftover roast chicken
1-2 teaspoons finely minced flat leaf (Italian) parsley
1. If you've made the biscuits ahead, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° F.; if you've not made them ahead, preheat to 450° F. Put the butter and onion or shallot in a heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Sauté, tossing often, until the onion is translucent and beginning to soften but not brown. Add the carrots and celery and toss to coat with fat, then continue sautéing until the onion is beginning to turn a pale gold and the carrot and celery are bright and hot through.
2. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly, Slowly stir in enough stock to make 2 cups of sauce with the gravy, or use 2 cups stock if you don't have any gravy. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly, then add the gravy, if using, and bring it back to a simmer, again stirring almost constantly until it's thick. Adjust the heat to a slow simmer, add the sage and thyme, and season well with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Worcestershire sauce, all to taste. Cover and simmer until the carrots and celery are tender, about 3-4 minutes longer.
3. While the sauce simmers, make the biscuits (see the following recipe). If you've made them ahead, simply warm them for 3-4 minutes in the center of a 350-degree oven. When they're ready, uncover the sauce, raise the heat, then stir in the cream and fold in the peas and chicken. Let it come back to a simmer and let it heat through, about 2-3 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings, simmer a minute longer, then turn off the heat.
4. Split the biscuits in half and put the bottom halves into 2 rimmed soup bowls. Divide the chicken between them and then cover with the top halves of the biscuits. Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve.
This is my basic cream biscuit recipe, halved. Since these days there are mostly just two of us, it's the quantity I generally make. They're perfect for this time of quarantine when we're cooking more because they're easy and fast.
They can be made into dessert shortcakes by sweetening them with 2-4 tablespoons of sugar. If you like, bump the sweetened version up a notch by also whisking in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and the grated zest of an orange into the dry ingredients before adding the cream.
They can be made a couple of hours ahead and reheated in a 350 degree oven, but they're of course at their best fresh from the oven. Like most quick breads, they go stale quickly, and should be consumed within a day. I often refresh leftovers by splitting and toasting them.
Makes 4-8, depending on size
5 ounces (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
About ¾ cup heavy cream
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and lightly whisk to blend them. In a separate cool bowl, whip the cream until it's frothed and thick but still fluid. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour it about 2/3 cup. Fold it in, adding the remaining cream as needed, until it's just holding together. It'll be a fairly stiff dough.
2. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands and pat it out ½-inch thick. Fold it over on itself, and again pat it out to ½-inch thick. Repeat this 3-4 more times, then pat it out ½-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out 4-8 rounds (depending on the cutter size) or cut the dough into squares with a very sharp cook's knife dipped in flour.
3. Lay the biscuits on a rimmed baking sheet and let them sit for 5 minutes or so. Bake in the center of the oven for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown on the top. For a glossy, browner finish, brush them with beaten egg white or a little cream before baking.