Monday, July 6, 2009
I spent the weekend in Charleston and was reminded of a dish I once had at the potluck luncheon the ladies I worked with once had. It is once in a great while, even there, in the traditional old south, that I would see Baked Chicken Salad, let alone a recipe in a newspaper. Even in a place where history is very much part of daily life, this dish is a dinosaur. But such a good relic, I promise you.
Not unlike the cold chicken salad recipe I have long guessed at, Baked Chicken Salad is a southern heirloom recipe with which families do not part. In the south, they believe in secrets.
Someone inevitably comes along claiming to lay bare all manner of secret things, don't they? And just as inevitably, it is close, not exact. It is hard to say whether this is the product of a hostess deliberately leaving out a detail or the writer putting their own take on the dish. Either way, I find Southern recipes the hardest to trust and pin down accurately. In this same category, unfortunately, is one of the few Baked Chicken Salad recipes I found in print, by Jean Anderson. It is a good recipe for something delicious but it is not what I remember and I if I am making it, clearly I want the dish I love. I have attempted to recreate it for you using Ms. Anderson's recipe as a loose guideline.
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Baked Chicken Salad, a Casserole
Adapted from Jean Anderson's, a Love Affair with Southern Cooking
I serve this casserole, as all southern casseroles, with hot buttered rice. Carolina, long grain, or brown rice.
3 thick slices, smoked bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 large celery rib, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup rich chicken stock
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 cups cooked chicken (or turkey)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
1- 4 ounce jar chopped pimentos, well drained
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks and kept chilled
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 2 quart casserole with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
Cut the bacon up into small pieces. Place in a large heavy skillet over medium heat and cook until bacon is rendered. Add onion, garlic, celery, and carrot and cook until softened, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring for one minute. Add the evaporated milk and chicken stock and sit to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for five minutes or until the mixture boils and thickens to a sauce consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the mayonnaise, pimentos, parsley, chicken, and heavy cream. Taste, re-season as needed.
Spread this mixture out in the casserole and sprinkle panko evenly over the top followed by the chopped pecans. Dot the top with the tiny butter cubes.
Cook in the oven 30 minutes or until bread crumbs and pecans are evenly browned and the edges are bubbly.