The day I made Jane Grigson’s Broccoli and Chicken Gratin

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This month, the Cookbook Guru’s feature cookbook is Vegetable Book, by Jane Grigson.  As I didn’t have it, I ordered it from Book Depository.  That was after two weeks or so of wresting with myself.  I know very well I don’t need another cookbook but I decided, ‘Ahh! What the hell?  It’s only $20’.

jane-GrigsonThe Vegetable Book arrived a couple of weeks ago.  It is a classic, if ever there was one.  I was quite looking forward to its arrival.  I have Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book and love it.

The first thing I did was open up the cucumber chapter. Nothing really appealed so I went to the bean chapter.  Again, nothing appealed so I moved on to the avocado chapter and then, in desperation, the broccoli chapter.  I stopped there.  I was happy to buy the book but I wasn’t going to go out and buy vegetables when our house is overflowing with them.

I am not certain whether recipes suited to England’s climate just don’t appeal mid-summer in Perth or maybe Australian cooking has moved on from 1970’s English cooking or maybe cooking, generally, has changed or maybe it is just me.  Whatever the case, I have found it difficult to find anything in the 600 odd pages that interests me.  In despair, I loitered in the broccoli chapter.

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I settled on the broccoli and chicken gratin.  We have an inordinate amount of broccoli in the freezer and we have found that we don’t particularly like it just steamed – it seems a bit rubbery.  It is perfect, however, for au gratin.

Now, you could be mistaken for thinking that this dish is merely a bit of chicken and broccoli with a cheese sauce which would not take long to whip up.  Well, as I said, you would be mistaken.  This took me all afternoon to put together.  Yes, all afternoon.

The recipe calls for half a roasted chicken.  Now, dedicated to the Cookbook Guru I am but I was not about to roast a chook for a bit of au gratin so I bought 2 skinless chicken breasts and poached them.  Whilst I was at it, I steamed the required ½ kilo of broccoli.

The next steps were simple enough: lightly butter an oven proof dish, cut the chicken into bite size pieces and layer the chicken in the dish.  Arrange the cooked broccoli over the chicken.

So far so good.  Next, I needed some béchamel sauce.  You have to go to the Appendix for that recipe.

Ms Grigson warns that making this sauce well can take an hour or even longer.  If you think this is a sauce you can quickly whip up in the microwave, you are sadly mistaken.

To begin, you need:

  • 600mls milk
  • 1 large shallot or medium onion, stuck with 2 cloves
  • 1 carrot, quartered
  • 5cm piece celery stalk
  • bouquet garni (I used fresh oregano, thyme and bay leaves just because I had them)
  • salt & pepper
  • 60g butter
  • 60g plain flour

Let us begin …

  1. Put the vegetables in a pot with the milk and bring the milk very slowly to just below boiling point.
  2. Leave it over a very low heat to infuse for half an hour.  It should not boil. Strain and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a heavy pan, stir in the flour and cook to a roux for two minutes without browning it.
  4. Take it off the heat and, gradually, pour in the strained milk, whisking all the time to ensure you don’t get any lumps.
  5. Return it to the heat, stir and bring to simmering point then leave to cook down steadily to the consistency of double cream.

Or cheat and do points 3-5 in the microwave. 🙂

Now, back to the main recipe.   I hope you are not exhausted because there is quite a bit to go.

To your béchamel sauce, add a ½ litre of lightly seasoned chicken stock (Ms Grigson suggested that we make the stock with the frame from the chicken after we had roasted it but I defrosted some I had in the freezer) and 1 heaped teaspoon of dried tarragon. Reduce the sauce until it is about half quantity.  Now this is not a sauce you can leave by itself to reduce to half without it sticking to the bottom of the pot.  I sat on a stool, with my iPhone, and read emails whilst I stirred and stirred and stirred (about ½ an hour or so).

Add 4-6 tablespoons* dry white vermouth or white wine (according to Ms Grigson, ‘vermouth is better’), 6 tablespoons* of  cream and the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.  Take the sauce off the heat.  Ms Grigson advises the consistency should be on the thick side.

Add 2 heaped tablespoons* of grated parmesan to bring up the flavours rather than to give an emphatic cheese taste.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and broccoli (I had a bit left over).  Sprinkle 50g of breadcrumbs on top then pour 1 heaped tablespoon* of melted butter over the crumbs.  Bake in a hot oven until the gratin bubbles at the edges and the chicken has had a chance to heat through properly.

And there you have it!  Chicken and broccoli gratin.  In my humble opinion, a lot of effort for not much but I like big bold flavours.  Maus was quite impressed with it as I am sure those who prefer more traditional food would be.  It was certainly more subtle than the typical  Aussie broccoli (or cauliflower) cheese which is overwhelmed (in a good way) with cheddar.

*These are 15 mil tablespoons.

These quantities will serve 4.

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26 thoughts on “The day I made Jane Grigson’s Broccoli and Chicken Gratin

  1. Pingback: A blast from the past … if ever there was one. | Passion Fruit Garden

  2. I have read a few pages of Grigson and love the writing too but some of the recipes, while classics, are a little tired or have been Anglified. I like your honesty Glenda: this dish shouldn’t take so long and I am sure the results would have been similar.

  3. From an eaters POV it looks like wonderful comfort food and more so made in the Corningware blue & white casserole dish. The weather is damp & cool here, and it’s exactly what I would like someone to make me for dinnner, even if they didn’t spend all afternoon doing it… there are somethings I’d take the time for but I think I could get good enough effect in less time. I’m just dreaming, as I’m the cook in our household plus the G.O. would go out for a hamburger if I made this – broccoli isn’t his thing!

  4. I think you are right on two counts, Glenda. First, the veg in this book really is suited to British climate, and two – it is old-fashioned. What was really surprising, however, is this broccoli and chicken casserole is EXACTLY like one that frequently graced my childhood dinner table. It was called Chicken Divan, after a restaurant of that name in NYC which is often credited with inventing the dish back in the early part of the 20th century. Good for a bit of nostalgia!

  5. Interesting post, Glenda… I don’t have that book by Jane Grigson, but I do like some of her recipes… disappointing when you buy a book and can’t find more than one or two recipes you’d like to try! Bit like buying an LP and finding only one song you enjoy! I admire your perseverance!

    • Hi Liz, I actually don’t mind, I like to read them anyway and Jane Grigson is an excellent writer. It is just that people don’t have the time to spend 1 hour making a béchamel sauce. It fits into the 20/80 rule. With 20% effort I could have had 80% of the results but you can’t critique it unless you have tried the recipe as written.

  6. Glenda, Glenda, what were you thinking? Okay, I’ll admit, when I saw the picture of this I thought “I’ve got to make this, it looks great!”. But then I read on & thought…maybe not. It really does look good & I love broccoli and chicken. I had no idea a béchamel sauce was so tedious. There’s got to be an easier way. Oh well, maybe I’ll just steal parts of this, just not for a bit. We’re busy stocking up for easy, microwave type meals since we’ve got a blizzard of massive proportions bearing down on us. The governor’s already declared a state of emergency & no driving after midnight. Good news is that we got a generator & had the electrician wire us up when we re-did the kitchen. Still, hope we don’t need it since it’s a royal pain to drag outside, crank it up & decide which circuits we need to flip for basic power.

  7. Hmm, sure I would have cheated lots with this recipe. I’m not an instant food kind of person but this is really on the other end of the scale.
    Have a lovely day Glenda, I am slowly trying to get back into the swing of things.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  8. I’m exhausted just from reading the recipe and how long it took! Pretty sure I can whip up a decent white sauce in 15 minutes or less but guess that’s not the point of the challenge! I’m struggling to find something I want to make too and I’m in the midst of winter so I think it’s more a case that our tastes and skills have moved on somewhat.

    • 15 minutes for a white sauce! Sacre bleu! Don’t tell Ms Grigson. I nearly tried the baked avocado with shrimp prawns or crab (still might). I remember that one from the 70s.

  9. Wow, sounds like a marathon to make this….its only after reading the book Im seeing just how much is cooked and i tend to agree about the seasons and wonder if we would feel differently if we were looking at it mid winter. A wonderful contribution, thank you Glenda.

  10. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Glenda has delved into Grigson’s book and found a way to use some of her broccoli glut…make sure you check out her experience of old school cooking methods to create this dish.

    Happy Reading and Happy Cooking,

    Leah

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