Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Creamy Celery and Chicken Casserole

 

The delicious aroma of a Chicken Casserole baking slowly in the oven on a cold and wet Winter's day or even a sunny Winter's day,  is so very comforting to me, and  gives the whole family a lot to look forward to for dinner. This is the Queen of comfort food, fall-apart chicken, lovely vegetables, and a seasoned creamy sauce.  Serving up this dish is like giving everyone a huge hug around the dinner table. 

This Celery and Chicken casserole is our cousin's family recipe. It's a recipe with the fondest memories attached, and I love that. Mr. HRK and I often drove to Brisbane when our children were at University, and were subsequently working down there. Maleny is a beautiful retreat of a town in the mountains near the Sunshine Coast where Mr. HRK's cousin Judy still lives. We would arrive at Judy's place for an overnight stay, and she would have the most delicious meal cooked, which was always so welcome after a long drive, and this casserole was one of her dishes that I fondly remember. It always tasted so good when Judy cooked it for us. I cooked this yesterday as we are housesitting and cat sitting Nala, in Cairns at the moment for our daughter, and it was an unusually wet and cold Winter's day for Cairns. We haven't seen or spoken to Judy for quite a while, so cooking her casserole prompted us to call her and let her know I was thinking about her when I was cooking, and I think she was pretty chuffed. I'm so pleased we did as time gets away, and when we learned that she is now 82 years old, but still loving and embracing life, it reminded us that a visit is in order again as soon as we can manage it. Do you have fond memories attached to some of the recipes you love to cook?

Nala, snuggling up in her bed on a wet and chilly night. She's Tonkinese and loves her food like we do. She was a rescue cat and is quite timid, and not a hunter which is great.

This recipe takes a shortcut by using a tin of good quality celery soup as the creamy base, and then adding celery as the chosen compatible vegetable. The soup ensures that the creamy sauce is the right consistency when the casserole is cooked, which can be one of the biggest challenges with cooking a casserole. The advantage of using a tin of soup as a base is that the chicken pieces don't need to be dredged in flour to ensure the casserole thickens while cooking. It's impossible to tell after all the herbs, mustard and other flavourings are added that a tin of soup is the base. This recipe can be cooked quite regularly for the family without becoming boring, just by using a different flavoured soup, and the vegetable of your choice to match the soup flavour, such as asparagus, mushroom or some other seasonal vegetable, however my preference is celery. I also like to add a finely chopped carrot for extra colour and flavour. This casserole is also a very economical dish to cook for a large group of people by just doubling the quantities, and cooking in two casserole dishes if necessary.

Ingredients:
Serves 4

Chicken legs (allow 2 per person), or 2 chicken breast fillets chopped into chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tin of vegetable soup (celery, asparagus or mushroom, I prefer celery)
 2 stalks of finely chopped celery or vegetable of soup choice
2 chopped cloves of Garlic
2 tablespoons chopped Parsley (dried is fine)
Vegetable Oil
1 teaspoon chicken stock powder
Ground pepper
3 teaspoons French Dijon mustard
1 finely chopped carrot
2 peeled potatoes thickly sliced (optional)


Method:

  1. Saute onion gently, remove and drain.
  2. Brown chicken pieces, remove and drain.
  3. Place 1/2 of the tin of vegetable soup of choice in a casserole dish, then 1/2 cooked onion, 1/2 vegetable of choice (celery), 1/2 the parsley and the stock powder, and then the chicken pieces
  4. Repeat the remaining layers until all the ingredients are in the dish.
  5. Ease the potato slices in and around the edge of the casserole ingredients right next to the dish acting as a border between the creamy chicken sauce and the dish. (This is an optional step but I like pieces of potato in a casserole.) The potato slices need to be quite thick so they don't break down during cooking.
  6. Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.




Cook in a slow to moderate oven until all ingredients are cooked together and the chicken is tender. After an hour, remove casserole dish from the oven, give it a gentle stir and check if the chicken is cooked. At this stage if the sauce needs thickening and it shouldn't if you haven't added extra liquid, mix 2 tablespoons of cornflour with enough water to make a thick  liquid and gently stir though the casserole.


 It will thicken almost straight away, however I like to place it back in the oven then and cook on low for another 15-30 minutes. Serve with mashed potato, brown rice or a green vegetable, however because it is stacked with vegetables, if it is just the two of us, sometimes we just garnish the dish with parsley and enjoy it's simplicity and deliciousness.

Cook's notes:
  •  I love the versatility of making a casserole. The original recipe suggests using parsley, but you can use any herbs you like and have on hand, or grow in your garden. 2 teaspoons of chopped Tarragon is especially nice to use, however it can be a strong herb, so gently does it.
  • Chicken is such a versatile meat to cook with. I have made this casserole using chicken legs and chicken fillet, depending on what I can buy at present, however chicken thigh fillets with skin on and bone in would also work very well. I always brown the chicken first though for those beautiful flavours, if using legs or thighs.
  •  I have also used leek and shallots instead of onion.
  • Add mushrooms 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time if you have them to enhance the flavour.
  • 1/2 cup of white wine or verjuice will take this dish to the next level, but may result in more liquid than you like, just thicken it with a mix of cornflour and water if necessary.
  • To transform your casserole into a French cassoulet, add 1/2 cup white wine, 2 teaspoons chopped tarragon, chopped mushrooms, 3 teaspoons French Dijon mustard, and substitute cooked leeks for the onions. 
  • If you are working, cook this in the slow cooker to make life easier, so you can look forward to a delicious family dinner when you return home from work.
  • Leftovers are delicious, and it freezes well.

We chose a nice sunny morning before the weather changed to showery and cool, to take a stroll and promenade along the Esplanade in Cairns, Far North Queensland. There were lots of tourists filling the coffee shops and shopping, as the first Cruise ship since Covid had just docked.

We spotted a Bush Stone-Curlew in the carpark. They are mostly ground dwelling and endemic to Australia.  They blend in so well don't they and can stay perfectly still when humans and animals are around. They are masters of camouflage.  They are also called a Bush thick-knee by the locals, not very complimentary at all.






Some very tasteful fish sculptures in the popular swimming pool along the esplanade. Some people were sunbaking and the lifeguard was on duty, and it's winter time. 

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Warm wishes,
Pauline