One dish meals are both easy to make and delicious. Casseroles (as many people call them) are staple meals for many families. However, it wasn’t until condensed soups became popular in the 1950‘s that casseroles truly began to blossom. Like TV dinners, casseroles were marketed as the busy housewives saving grace. Busy housewives could now open a can of condensed soup, mix in a few ingredients, and within an hour have dinner ready for her family.
Not much has changed with the casserole since it made it’s move to the dinner table in the 1950’s. I can’t help but wonder why? I realize people like to joke and ask why mess with perfection…but I’m not sure a casserole is perfection. I guess it’s perfect in the sense of quick and easy. However, what really makes a casserole?
True casseroles are stewed meats or covered dishes that have been cooked slowly in an oven. Today’s casseroles are more fusion cuisines that capture flavors from the world. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Breakfast casseroles, brunch casseroles, or even dinner casseroles are all common varieties to choose from. With so many casseroles to choose from what is key factor to developing flavors?
When I think of casseroles I think of layers. The idea of “flavor” layers isn’t anything new. I’ve talked about building layers of flavors before. With the idea of flavor layers, try a different approach to building your casseroles. Instead of mixing everything together like most casseroles suggest, why not build flavor layers. These layers allow a variety of options to be incorporated into your favorite casserole. When I make my poppy seed chicken casserole, I build layers of flavors. Each layer is unique to the dish. I always start with a layer of thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom. This layer gives the flavor of au gratin potatoes. The second layer is vegetables. Use any vegetables you like. The last layer is the meat mixture. This layer contains the liquid that “blends” the casserole together. Generally, I will combine cooked chicken, sour cream, a white sauce, cheese, spices and poppy seeds. Mix this last layer together and “frost” the casserole. As the casserole heats in the oven, the liquid distributes throughout the dish helping to cook the potatoes and providing a wonderful gravy. Always cover your casseroles, otherwise, they will dry out in the hot oven while cooking.
Casseroles are a great way to use leftovers and add variety to your culinary repertoire. Unfortunately, these tasty dishes have been the center of many jokes. It’s true that our sub culture here in the state of Utah seems to hold a monopoly on Jello and casseroles jokes but jokes aside casseroles are delicious. When I serve a casserole I will often start the jokes flowing with my dinner guests by serving up a square of Jello on a piece of lettuce. My dinner guests start laughing and enjoying an evening of wonderful food and humor.
I love the almighty casserole and its enduring legacy. From the rural kitchens of the world to the fast and moving metropolitan kitchens of the city, casseroles are here to stay. Have some fun with the ingredients and remember to build layers of flavors. Be sure to cover your casserole and cook it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. For a complete recipe of my chicken poppy casserole, simply go to my website www.cookingwithchefbryan.com.