by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
I make lots of casseroles that have protein, veggies, carbs and good fats all together.
— Tori Spelling
Chicken spaghetti is an absolute staple of southern cooking, as much as cornbread is. All casserole foods are big in the South and this is the mother of all casseroles—make that great-grandmother. Its pure comfort food.
Baked dishes have existed for thousands of years. Early casserole recipes consisted of rice that was pounded, pressed, and filled with a savoury mixture of meats such as chicken or sweetmeats. Some time around the 1870s this sense of casserole seems to have slipped into its current use.
Cooking in earthenware containers has always been common in most nations, but the idea of casserole cooking as a one-dish meal became popular in the United States in the twentieth century, especially in the 1950s when new forms of lightweight metal and glass cookware appeared on the market. By the 1970s casseroles took on a less-than sophisticated image.
As far as the chicken spaghetti casserole goes, no one knows exactly where it came from. You'll find every southern cook say it takes them back to the time that their mama cooked it and they all sat around the big family table eating it, but the actual beginnings are shrouded in mystery.
In reality, the dish may simply be a variation of Turkey Tetrazzini, a dish named for Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini and made famous by Chef Ernest Arbogast at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. His was a dish of cooked turkey in a butter/cream sauce and grated cheese, over spaghetti, with sliced mushrooms and bread crumbs on top. Most likely, leftover chicken was substituted for the turkey, Velveeta cheese replaced the more expensive cream sauce, and the flavor was bumped up with another southern stable—Ro-Tel tomatoes.
4-6 chicken breasts (bone in and skin on)
1 12-oz package thin spaghetti
1 10-oz can Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilis
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
1 lb Velveeta cheese
2 tbsp butter (1/4 stick)
Boil chicken and remove from water. Make sure to reserve broth. One time I was helping my wife cook this and threw out the broth. It was as if I had turned the dish into gruel.
Let chicken cool and then debone and shred it. Sauté the onion and pepper in butter and cook the spaghetti in the reserved chicken broth. Mix all ingredients together while hot until cheese melts (reserve some of the cheese). Pour into 9x13 casserole and top with reserved cheese. Preheat oven to 350˚and then bake for 30 minutes.
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