Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Light Cheese Sauce for Pasta

So it's been a while, but I promise I haven't been a deadbeat blogger, I've just been using a lot of recipes lately instead of making stuff up. (I can't recommend the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook highly enough.) Last night I wanted to throw together a quick dinner so I pulled a pack of spinach ravioli out of the freezer and made a white sauce that is lighter than alfredo but still cheesy and yummy.

12oz chicken breast, cut into 1/2" cubes
8oz asparagus, cut into 1" sections
2TB butter
2TB flour
1.5c milk
4oz hard cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, dubliner, etc), shredded or cut into small pieces
1TB oil

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan while you prep the chicken and asparagus.
2. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. When the sizzling has died down some (a minute or two), stir in the asparagus and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes without removing the lid so that the asparagus steams, then give it a stir and cover again every couple minutes until the asparagus is the desired doneness, probably around 10 minutes total.
3. Dump the contents of the saucepan into a bowl and stash it in the microwave to stay warm. Put the saucepan back on the stove at medium-low heat and add the butter.
4. When the butter has completely melted sprinkle in the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth. Keep stirring for another minute or two, but if it starts browning at all, immediately remove from heat and move on to the next step. (You just made a roux!)
5. Stir 1c of milk into the butter/flour mixture. Stir until the mixture is mostly smooth again. Turn the stove up to medium, stir for a minute or two, then stir in the rest of the milk. Stir another couple minutes. (You just made a b├ęchamel!)
6. Add half the cheese and stir until it has melted and the sauce is completely smooth. Repeat with the rest of the cheese. Remove from the heat.
7. Stir in 1/4tsp salt and a few fine grinds of pepper. Add the chicken and asparagus, but not the juice in the bottom of the bowl. Stir everything together, then add reserved juice until you have the desired consistency.

My rating: 8/10
Potential rating: 9/10

Notes:  I wouldn't suggest using a softer cheese because you need the sharpness and acidity of a hard cheese to mask the floury taste of a roux-based sauce. The chicken and asparagus really mate well with a white sauce, though you could easily omit them entirely or choose a different vegetable. Petite broccoli florets would probably work well, just reduce the cooking time in step 2. The only improvement I can think of would be fine-tuning the types of cheese used to get the perfect flavor, I suspect a combo of parmesan and asiago would be delicious.

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