A little over a year ago, Emmuzka and I had a short chat about the lack of condensed soups in certain areas after I’d posted a recipe using condensed cream of chicken soup. I took that as a cue to look up and bookmark a small list of homemade substitutes for the ingredient, so I was conveniently able to bust them out again earlier this week when my enchilada recipe (coming tomorrow) called for it. There are a few different ones, so I figured I’d give them each a try and then report on the varying results before coming to a conclusion as to what worked the best.
Starting with the simplest recipe first, I used Cream Soup Substitute II from About.com. It comes remarkably close to looking like milk gravy and is actually made in a somewhat similar manner. It required substantial tweaking, but the consistency is spot-on for condensed soup, and it refrigerates into the same sort of jiggly mass as well. The chicken taste is very mild and the minimal seasoning allows it to blend seamlessly into whatever recipe you are using it for. When using this recipe in the future, I’d probably use more bouillon to give it a stronger chicken flavor.
To make up a 2-cup batch (most recipes call for a 10.5 oz can, so it’s better to make up a bit extra and then freeze it than end up with not enough), you’ll need 2 tablespoons of butter, 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 cup of chicken broth, 1 cup of milk, and salt and pepper to taste. This is according to the original recipe. I would advise you to have additional butter or vegetable/canola oil standing to the side in case you have the same issues I ended up having. The original recipe goes on to specify that it works well with low-sodium and low-fat versions of all the ingredients, which is pretty much what I used anyway.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
Stir in the flour and keep stirring until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Here is the part where I ran into trouble — the amount of butter listed is not nearly enough to handle the amount of flour used. I have made enough roux bases to know that they usually require equal parts fat and flour to reach a smooth consistency. The most you can cut that back is 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour, and then only if you’re working with a larger quantity of fat than a couple tablespoons. I ended up adding an additional 2 tablespoons of canola oil and managed to at least dissolve all the flour, though it was still on the doughy side. I will definitely be using equal parts in the future, and suggest you do as well.
A traditional roux would then require that you stir until the flour is browned and develops a nutty taste. Because this is not a sauce that will be eaten directly, but rather just an ingredient in a larger recipe that will be cooked as a whole, we can skip that step.
Turn the heat down to low. We then are told to add in the chicken broth. However, I was using a block of chicken bouillon, so added 1 cup of water first to dissolve the cube in. Each cube is supposed to be enough for 2 cups of liquid, so I figured it would flavor 2 cups of soup adequately.
Then I chucked the cube into this unattractive mixture and let it start to dissolve over low heat.
When the cube had softened, I took the potato masher and went over the entire mixture, smashing everything together so that the flour lumps would start breaking up and the bouillon would be more evenly distributed.
Add in a cup of milk after a bit of mashing action and stir it in.
Turn the heat back up to medium-low and continue getting rid of those lumps. It will feel all milky and watery at first, but the flour will eventually start to thicken up the sauce.
After a few minutes, you should have gotten things mostly smoothed out and thickened. You can see here that it’s started to coat the masher nicely without running. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, then take off heat. Either use it right away or refrigerate for later use, as I did.
As I mentioned earlier, the chicken taste is rather mild in this compared to the store-bought variety. Probably because a cube of bouillon makes for 2 cups of regular chicken broth, not the condensed sort you’d find in a can. Using two cubes should take care of this problem. You can also add in your preferred seasonings like onion/garlic powder, paprika, peppers, what have you. Chunks of chicken or veg would probably work as well. However, since most of us are probably making this for use in some other dish, I would instead suggest that you just make this cream as simple as possible, then use additional seasoning in the final dish as needed, so that you’re not introducing too many seasoning combinations without knowing how they’ll blend.
Edited 8/15/2010: Want to see another option? Try Version Two!