@recipe and images LAURA HOBBS
We’ve all been there: You leave work ten minutes early so you can run to the store - hopefully beating the crowds - to grab something for dinner. Your fridge’s current offerings consist of a strange collection of rarely-used condiments, a jar of pickled okra and a bag of floppy carrots from who-knows-when. You arrive at the deli counter of the closest chain store and realize that if their fare isn’t fried, it’s mixed with a metric ton of mayonnaise. You sigh. The deli clerk brings you back to your senses: “What can I get you?” “Oh! Umm... I’ll take a rotisserie chicken, please,” you reply.
Rotisserie chickens are a fabulous way to make your life in the kitchen a little easier. When it’s getting late on a weeknight, and you’re so hungry you’re minutes away from eating your own hand, a rotisserie chicken from the local grocery can be a lifesaver.
While menu planning last weekend, I was stationed at the kitchen table with my arsenal of cooking magazines, my grocery list and my third cup of coffee. Flipping through my Food & Wine, I came across this article on the lead singer of the country band Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, and her passion for throwing fabulous dinner parties with rising chef Steven Satterfield at her bodacious home in Atlanta. Among the Southern-themed goodies at this particular party was a Southern Chicken Casserole, loosely based on a dish Nettles’ grandmother used to make. Granted, this is a modernized version of granny’s classic chicken casserole – chicken and glop this is not.
The dish begins by shredding an entire rotisserie chicken – not necessarily a split-second project, I’ll admit, but one that can be fully enjoyed while getting into the Southern spirit: jamming some Skynyrd, Kings of Leon or good ol’ Dolly, and drinking a SoCo and lime (that’s Southern Comfort and lime juice). Once the chicken is shredded and the dogs have had their snacks, a quick white sauce whips up in no time, with yummy bits of onion, celery and red bell pepper. The chicken and white sauce come together with a rather frightening amount of mayonnaise (ignore my previous comment, folks – this really is the secret ingredient), and the whole thing is topped off with crushed Ritz crackers and shredded cheese. Everything becomes bubbly and creamy in the oven with the exception of the crackers, which take on a toasty, cheesy crunch.
All in all, this dish takes a little over an hour to come together, with the help of a handy rotisserie chicken. If you’re feeling like an overachiever, feel free to roast your own chicken. You can add other delicious veggies to the sauce too, like peas, carrots or corn. The casserole also serves as wonderful leftovers throughout the week, sure to make your coworkers drool and look despondently upon their Lean Cuisine. So flaunt your Southern pride, y’all: your dinner guests will thank you. Enjoy!
Southern Chicken Casserole
(adapted from Food & Wine)
1 rotisserie chicken, meat shredded (about 4 cups)
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 celery rib, diced
¼ c. flour
1 ½ c. milk
½ c. mayonnaise
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
½ c. shredded favorite cheese
butter, olive oil, Tabasco, salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery, cooking over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the milk to the pan and whisk constantly until thoroughly combined and thickened, about 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste. Remove from the heat and stir in the mayonnaise and chicken.
Transfer the chicken mixture to a shallow baking dish. In a medium bowl, crush the crackers and the shredded cheese together until crumbly and thoroughly mixed. Scatter the cracker mixture over the chicken and bake for about 45 minutes, until the casserole is golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.