Elizabeth David's gratin of turkey in cream sauce

10 December 2012

Can't think what to do with all that leftover turkey meat? Try this soothing recipe by legendary cookery writer, Elizabeth David.

Cooking time

40 minutes




  • About 375 g/¾ lb of cooked turkey or chicken weighed when it has been taken from the bone

For the sauce

  • 45 g/1½ oz of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 300 ml/½ pint of milk
  • 4 tablespoons each of stock from the bird and cream
  • Or, if there is no stock, 8 tablespoons of cream
  • Nutmeg 
  • Salt and freshly milled pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or Gruyère, plus a little extra, with breadcrumbs, for the final cooking of the dish.


This is a really worthwhile dish to make with some of the turkey meat; it’s a dish I often make from a chicken cooked especially for the purpose, because the creamy, cheese-flavoured sauce with the chicken makes such a soothing, gentle combination of flavours and textures. That is to say, it does if the sauce really is creamy and if there is rather a lot of it in proportion to the chicken or turkey meat.

Melt the butter in a thick saucepan, put in the flour, stir it round, off the fire, until it forms a smooth paste; add a little of the warmed milk. Return to the fire and stir while you add the rest of the milk.

 When the sauce is smooth and thick add the stock, cream and seasonings; there should be a good measure of pepper and nutmeg but only a very little salt until after the cheese has been added. It may then be necessary to add more. 

At this stage put the saucepan into another large one containing water and let it cook in this bain-marie, stirring frequently, for a good 20 minutes. Now add the cheese and stir again until it has amalgamated with the sauce. Remove all skin and sinew from the turkey or chicken, cut it into thin strips, as much of a size as possible.

Cover the bottom of a shallow gratin dish with a thin layer of the sauce. Put in the turkey or chicken in one layer. Cover it completely with the rest of the sauce. 

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and cook for about 15 minutes in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas No. 4, and then transfer it to the grill for a minute or two and serve it when the top is just beginning to blister into golden bubbles. 

If you do this gratin in larger quantities, use a dish in proportion. It will not be good if it is squashed into too small a space.

Recipe from Elizabeth David’s Christmas, published by The Folio Society, £29.95 and available from www.foliosociety.com Tel: 0207 400 4200, or from The Folio Society, 44 Eagle Street, London, WC1R 4FS. Copyright © the Estate of Elizabeth David.

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