I spend the vast majority of my time working out recipes – devising, experimenting, cooking, refining, writing. And I have a lot of failures, or at least misfires. I have as many kitchen disasters as anyone, if fact, probably more because I cook more than many. But every once in awhile, a kitchen hiccup becomes something lovely in it’s own right, and this is one of those recipes.
I roasted a couple of chickens one weekend with a plan in mind, but as is so often the case, the plan fell apart, so I found myself with a lot of leftover chicken meat. I decided to whip up one of my classic leftover chicken dishes – poppy seed chicken – because it is a simple recipe, I usually have all the ingredients on hand and can by now make it with out really thinking too much. I chopped the leftover chicken up, put the butter in the skillet to melt, measured out the flour and then poured the milk into the measuring jug. Only I didn’t have enough. I substituted some of the required amount with buttermilk. The sauce curdled ever so slightly, but smoothed out and thickened as required. That hurdle passed, I had everything ready to go with only the poppy seeds left to stir in. Only I didn’t have any poppy seeds. I did, however, have an abundance of celery seed so I decided it was too late to turn back, so in they went. The final result was a delight. I never really got the point of poppy seeds in the chicken anyway, they don’t add much but color to it, but celery seeds have a lovely brisk flavor, and combined with the little hit of buttermilk, this simple casserole become a tangy, creamy treat.
I think of this casserole as a weeknight wonder, because it is so easy to put together. Use any leftover chicken you have, or some pulled from a rotisserie bird. You could add a handful of frozen peas if you like, or some herbs to the sauce, but I like to keep it simple and serve it with a good salad. And of course, if you prefer, you can use poppy seeds instead.
Celery seed chicken casserole
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2cups whole milk
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup crushed buttery crackers (I like Ritz)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a deep skillet large enough to hold the chicken. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Add the milk, whisking constantly, then the buttermilk, and bring to a low bubble. Cook, whisking, until thickened. The sauce may appear a little curdled, but that’s just fine. Stir in the chicken, the sour cream and the vinegar until combined, then stir in the celery seeds. Taste and then add salt and pepper as needed.
3. Scrape the chicken into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Spread the cracker crumbs in an even layer over the casserole. At this point, the dish can be cooked covered and refrigerated for up to a day before baking.
4. Bake the casserole until hot through and bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Notes: You can cook three chicken breasts to make this casserole. Place them in a baking dish and cover with foil, Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Chicken and dumplings