Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chicken & Rice Casserole

So chicken and rice casserole doesn’t exactly get the mouth watering. Chicken and rice casserole isn’t one of those recipes you’re just “dying” to try. It’s never something you’d order at a gourmet restaurant. Nobody gets excited about chicken and rice casserole. Why I even bothered to bookmark this recipe, I don’t know. Maybe because it was so easy. And because I already had all the ingredients. In fact, that’s the only reason I actually decided to make it. I was too lazy to stop at the store, and I knew I had everything at home already.

But you know what? This casserole is frickin’ good. Yeah, frickin’. It was such a pleasant surprise. I had steeled myself for something bland and boring, but this recipe is full of flavor. The chicken breast got a little dry, but that was the only complaint I had, and that was probably just a length of cooking thing. Actually the original recipe called for chicken thighs, which were probably more juicy. One thing that really sets this recipe apart from other casseroles is that it doesn’t call for a can of condensed soup. Something about that makes it seem so much more healthy, although I’m not sure that’s the case.

Chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
1 1/3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream
1 cup raw white rice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each of Italian seasoning and poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon paprika  
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Lemon juice

We actually didn’t have mushrooms, so we made it without. I’m sure it would be very good with them, though, so I’m keeping them in here. You could also substitute other hardy veggies like broccoli if you were so inclined.

Heat olive oil in a pan to brown the chicken. Sprinkle a little salt on the bottom of the pan. Apparently, this keeps the chicken from sticking. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and then brown the chicken. It doesn’t need to be fully cooked, so you just want to get good color on it. About 2 minutes per side. Set aside the chicken and lower the heat to medium. Add more oil if necessary and add the onions, cooking about 3 minutes until they are clear. Then throw in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Put this onion/garlic mixture in a 9x13 casserole dish. Saute the mushrooms if you are adding them, just browning them lightly before putting them in the dish.

On medium heat, add the sherry or white wine to the pan and scrape off all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan to mix into the wine (apparently this is called “deglazing.”) I used white wine and enjoyed it. Not sure what sherry will taste like. Let this reduce down to about one tablespoon and then add the chicken stock. Remove from the heat and add the salt, cream, sour cream, stirring until it mixes. It wasn’t completely incorporated for us and it turned out fine. Put the raw rice in the casserole dish and then add the stock mixture. Mix in all the seasonings and stir everything so it’s evenly distributed.

Finally put the chicken on top of the rice in a single layer, cover it with aluminum foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. If it’s liquidy (ours wasn’t) take off the foil and let it cook a few more minutes until the liquid is all soaked in.

So upon eating this, Steve and I both thought, "This is good. But it's missing something." Based on all the Top Chef we watched we decided that it needed some "acid." (I swear, they say that all the time!) So we sprinkled some lemon juice on top of the casserole and it was fantastic! In the future, we might try slicing some lemons and cooking them in the casserole, but the sprinkle method was so successful, I'm not sure we need to change it.

I know this seems pretty complicated, but it’s really not as hard as it sounds, and the casserole is definitely worth it. I feel like this is one of those recipes you could play around with as well—particularly the herbs. You could add Cajun seasoning instead of poultry seasoning to give it a little Nawlin’s feel. And the best part—it’s still good the next day. It's the perfect lunch to take to work. And when someone asks you what smells so good you can shock them by saying, “Just a plain old boring chicken and rice casserole.”

(Click here for printable recipe)

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