It’s been a while, dear readers, since I last shared my culinary adventures with you. Apologies! Since last May, I’ve graduated from grad school and started two new jobs. Though life, in general, keeps me busy–and all of us really–I haven’t forgotten about happy food. In fact, I am constantly thinking up new blog posts about the food & drink I make or encounter and snapping what I consider to be artful snapshots of said happy food & drink, probably annoying those around me–especially in restaurants.
Now that summer is officially over and we’re all getting into the groove of autumn, the time for one-pot meals is upon us once more. These meals take the form of soups, stews, and everyone’s favorite–what most of y’all call casseroles. As a born-and-raised Minnesotan, however, I know them to be hotdishes. (And no, autocorrect, you can’t separate hot from dish…it’s all one word, don’t cha know.) So, forgive me for calling casseroles by their true name of hotdishes, I just can’t bring myself to do otherwise.
Not just for potlucks, hotdishes provide a hearty, satisfying meal by combining all the components of a delicious dinner into a single cooking vessel. One-pot meals are actually a tradition that date back centuries, when people did not have access to multi-burner stoves, double ovens, and the cornucopia of food we can find at our local grocery stores today. Often, a single cauldron over the hearth fire was the only way people cooked, and sometimes the only way to make a chunk of meat edible was to cook the crap out of it. Though that is no longer the case for many of us, the one-pot method remains an essential part of our everyday lives. By cooking everything in the same vessel, we concoct a magical brew of sorts, one that can take the agony out of preparing an elaborate meal while allowing the process to enhance and highlight the flavors of individual ingredients.
Growing up, my parents were no strangers to the hotdish. They could transform a pound of ground beef or a couple cans of tuna fish into some of my favorite week-night meals. A few of their staples included Franco American Spaghetti Hotdish, Tuna Hotdish (with crushed potato chips, of course), and Goulash. But my absolute favorite family recipe remains Wild Rice Hotdish. Back in the day, my mom & dad’s recipe combined white rice, wild rice, ground beef, onion, mushrooms, and one of the foundations for any good hotdish, cream of chicken soup. With the savoriness of the beef and mushrooms, the heartiness of the cream of chicken soup and white rice, and the earthy bite of the wild rice, the traditional recipe is mouthwateringly delicious and perfect for those crisp, fall evenings.
If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you already know I’m not one to leave well enough alone. Rewind a winter or two ago–time goes by so fast these days, its hard to distinguish one winter from another–when I confronted the leftover half of a Costco rotisserie chicken staring at me every time I opened the refrigerator. Each time it seemed to call out to me, as if to ask, “What are you waiting for? I’ve been picked apart. Ransacked. Left as an unattractive, unappetizing version of my former self. Please, transform me into something much more dignified.”
Taking the chicken’s plea to heart, I pulled the recipe box filled with my family’s most treasured traditions off the shelf in search of my mom and dad’s famous Wild Rice Hotdish recipe. Though I remember my parents always using ground beef, I wondered if there were concessions if I wanted to use chicken instead. Alas, right there on the recipe card in my mother’s handwriting, it read: “Note: Can substitute chicken for the ground beef.” Of course I could, I didn’t need the card to tell me that, but when facing the daunting task of changing a family recipe, it’s always comforting to know that you have permission to do so. I then went to work using up the bits and pieces of leftover rotisserie chicken, and because of that, I reached into the freezer for some homemade chicken stock to replace the beef bouillon requested by the original recipe. The resulting alteration to my family’s Wild Rice Hotdish recipe exceeded all expectations, and the finished product truly lived up to the legacy of a one pot wonder. One that tantalized the tastebuds, warmed the soul, and honored the cherished memories of family dinners.
Rotisserie Chicken & Wild Rice Hotdish
1/2 c. wild rice
1/2 c. white or brown rice
4 c. chicken stock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 rotisserie chicken, pulled or chopped into bite-size pieces
8 oz can mushroom stems & pieces
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 325.
Combine rices in a mixing bowl. In a medium sauce pan, bring 3 cups of the chicken stock to a boil, leaving one cup for the hotdish. Pour the heated stock over the rices and let steep for 15 minutes.
While the rice is steeping, melt the butter over medium heat in a large dutch oven.* Sauté the chopped onion, chopped celery, and diced garlic for 5-6 minutes or just until the onions and celery start to soften. Toss in the chicken, and cook for another minute or two until the meat is thoroughly heated. Stir in the contents from the can of mushrooms (including the liquid), the cream of mushroom soup, the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, and the seasonings. Finally, drain the rices before combining them with the mixture.
Cover and bake for 90 minutes. Serve immediately.
* If you don’t have a large dutch often, sauté the meat and vegetables in a large sauté pan before combining all of the ingredients in a large casserole dish.
Traditional Ground Beef Variation:
Replace the rotisserie chicken with 1.5 pounds of ground beef, browning it amid the onions, celery, and garlic after they’ve been sautéed.
Note: The flavors develop best if prepared the night before and refrigerated until it’s time to bake.