By Lisl Unterholzner
With a 50 year old cookbook, you have to expect that some recipes have stood the test of time better than others. This recipe was the main dish at the cooking demonstration I attended at Datz during The Gasparilla Cookbook’s week-long invasion of that foodie mecca, and I was curious to see how Chef Heather would approach it. What’s the concern? Well, if you can get past the MSG and the yellow food color in the sauce, it’s still a recipe for a style of dish that’s not as popular today as it once was. It’s kind of a chicken a la king over cornbread. Perfect for the ladies who lunched at The Wedgewood Inn in St. Petersburg back in the day, but I discovered it’s also surprisingly good if you’re looking for some easy comfort food and not counting calories.
One thing I have to mention up front, DO NOT follow the directions as written or you will end up with a gluey mess. The directions for the cream sauce call for an unreasonable amount of flour. I don’t know if it’s just a mistake, but I was very happy to watch Chef Heather prepare the roux for the cream sauce before I tried it at home.
The good thing about this recipe is it can be made in stages, and you can make it the long way, or use shortcuts as you see fit. The long way would be making your own chicken stock, cooking your own chicken, making your own cornbread and sautéing fresh mushrooms instead of using the canned ones called for in the recipe. Fine if you’ve got the inclination, but not a big deal if time is of the essence.
I decided to use my own cornbread, made in a skillet using the Corn Sticks recipe on page 26 of The Gasparilla Cookbook. But I’ve got a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix sitting in my cabinet that just might be called into service in the near future.
Here’s how I interpreted Chicken Shortcake Natchez:
First, I made the corn bread. Actually, first I made bacon to get the bacon fat for the cornbread, because I wanted to follow the recipe as much as possible, and no one in my house minds an excuse to make bacon. I really liked the suggestion at the end of the recipe to add crumbled bacon to the cornbread, but I held off this time. Just using the fat gives it a strong bacon-y flavor. Yum! By the way, the recipe for the shortbread calls for the cornbread to be made without sugar, but there is so little in this version that I left it in for balance. This is a pretty grainy style of cornbread, so if you like it softer you may want to try a different recipe.
My cornbread is cooling in the background. Now, I’m ready to start the cream sauce. That bowl of flour is WAY too much, despite what the recipe says. I actually used about 6 or 7 tablespoons. Chef Heather said to add it a little bit at a time, and stir constantly. The mixture remained loose and liquid. The recipe doesn’t really say how long you should cook it. I wanted to cook off the raw flour taste, but not allow the roux to begin to turn brown. I probably cooked it about 6 or 7 minutes before beginning to add the chicken stock. That, too, should be done a little at a time, and a whisk is handy to break up the lumps that form.
I substituted 2% milk for the evaporated milk, and left out the MSG and food coloring, but I did use the canned mushrooms for convenience. They have distinctive flavor, but in the sauce they aren’t too strong and mostly add some depth of flavor. Another suggestion by Chef Heather was to add a bit more depth to the sauce with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, which I did and liked the result. For the cooked chicken, I took the meat off a rotisserie chicken, and that worked well. The whole thing comes together very quickly, and then it’s time to dig in.
Here it is – decidedly retro, but delicious nonetheless. This would be fun for a themed dinner party, but it’s not too hard for a weeknight. Enjoy!
CHICKEN SHORTCAKE NATCHEZ
Blend chicken, mushroom and cream sauce. Slice squares of southern style cornbread (no sugar) through the center. Ladle chicken mixture on half the cornbread, top with another slice of cornbread and put more chicken mixture over this, shortcake fashion. Sprinkle with paprika. Serves 6.
3 cups rich chicken stock
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 pound margarine
5 ounces evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate
1 or 2 drops yellow food coloring
Strain stock. Add flour to melted margarine, stirring constantly. When smooth add the stock gradually. Then add milk, salt, monosodium glutamate and food coloring. Stir well, and cook until thickened.