The other night, I wanted something 'different' for supper. Something 'fancy' but that wouldn't require a whole lot of work. Mind you it also had to meet the approval of a 12 year old, one senior citizen, my husband and, most importantly, me! Having said that, I'm fairly forturnate that my 12 year old has a somewhat sophisticated palate, my mother is just happy that she doesn't have to do the cooking and my husband will eat the Lamb of God if someone will cook it up for him. I, on the other hand, have to be in the 'mood' for certain things. And my mood was telling me something with pasta and chicken, but no tomatoes. Flipping through my book of recipes that I started back in the '70's, I found a recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini. Sounds impressively Italian right? Despite it's Italian sounding name, Chicken Tetrazzini wasn't even created in Italy, not alone by an Italian!
In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the world economy took on a more intensely managed system and by the 1920's, there was a full on economc boom, with corporate giants in production, communications, finance, life insurance and entertainment dominating the economy. Due to this new boom in the economy, society life took on a more glamourous aura and it was not uncommon for chefs and restaurants to name dishes for pretigious clients. Dishes such as Green Goddess salad dressing, Lobster Newburg and Eggs Benedict were all created and named after famous patrons. Why do I add that tidbit of trivia you might ask? Well, Chicken Tetrazzini was named for 'The Florence Nightingale', world-renowned opera soprano, Luisa Tetrazzini, (1871-1941). There is no doubt that Luisa inspired some great chef to create Chicken Tetrazzini in her honour, but just which one remains uncertain. Some believe Chef Pavini of the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City invented the dish after Luisa's New York debut of Violetta in La Traviata. Others still believe the dish was created by master French chef George Auguste Escoffier. However, the great James Beard, author, teacher, columist, tv personality and champion of American cuisine, supported San Francisco's claim that Chicken Tetrazzini was created by Chef Ernest Arbogast of The Palace Hotel, at which Luisa was a frequent guest.
While Chicken Tetrazzini sounds incredibly fancy, it's really a simple casserole that ticks all of the boxes for being kid friendly, freezing well, it can go straight from freezer to oven, great for using up leftover chicken or turkey and it's one of those dishes that seems very posh, giving your dinner guests the impression that you went through a great amount of culinary trouble when in reality, it's a snap to throw together! Heck...with a little forethought, you could make it days in advance of a gathering, freeze it and then cook it up when you need it. The basis for Chicken Tetrazzini is a savory dish made with pasta, mushrooms and a cream sauce. It's very forgiving and versatile because you can switch up your protein, using either leftover or fresh chicken or turkey, salmon or tuna, and for the pasta you can use linguine, (my pasta of choice for this dish), or spaghetti, vermicelli, angel hair, egg noodles or even rigatoni.Not only is this dish fantastic made fresh, it also reheats really well for lunch the next day - this is definitely one leftover that won't end up in the trash! Mushrooms are usually a staple in this dish, but you can add frozen green peas, carrot, celery, red peppers, onion and even broccoli...it's all totally ok!
First up, I lightly seasoned four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, on both sides, with some freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. I then sauteed the chicken breasts in 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter heated in a large skillet over medium high heat. I seared the chicken breasts until they were pale but golden, about 4 minutes per side.
I then transferred them to a large bowl to cool and then shredded the chicken breasts using 2 forks into bite size pieces.
Next, in the same skillet I browned the chicken in, I melted another Tbsp of butter with a Tbsp of olive oil and sauteed about 2 cups of white mushrooms, sliced, 1 large onion, finely chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, minced, (I would have used more garlic except the cloves I had were HUGE) and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.
When the mushrooms were a nice golden brown and the onion translucent, I added 1/2 cup of dry white wine, bringing that to a simmer, scraping up all the yummy brown bits from the skillet. I can't emphasize enough the importance of incorporating the flavourful brown bits in the skillet whenever you're cooking...that's pure depth of flavour there folks!
When the wine had evaporated, after about 2 minutes, I transferred the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the chicken. I then melted an additional 3 Tbsp of butter in the skillet and whisked in 3 Tbsp all purpose flour to make a roux, or thickening, for my sauce. When the flour and butter mixture was all frothy, after about 2 minutes, I whisked in 3 cups 0.5% milk, 1 c. of heavy whipping cream and 1 cup of no salt added chicken broth. When the sauce started to simmer and thicken, I seasoned it with 1/8 tsp of freshly ground nutmeg and freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste. After 10 minutes or so, the sauce was nicely thickened but while it was thickening, I brought a large pot of salted water to a boil and cooked around 12 oz. of linguine pasta, just until it was al dente, or still a little firm.
I then added the sauce, drained cooked pasta and about a 1/4 cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley to the bowl with the chicken and mushrooms and tossed it all around until it was blended. I poured the entire mixture into a large casserle dish and topped it with a mixture of 1/4 cupdry bread crumbs and 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I dotted the topping with some butter and baked the Chicken Tetrazzini in my oven, preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-25 minutes.
Pre-Oven...looks rather 'beige', I know, but trust me here!
This is what it looks like fresh out of the oven. I don't know if you can see it or not, but it was all bubbly and inviting!
If you're thinking of making the Chicken Tetrazzini a few days ahead, simply place the unbaked casserole in the refrigerator until completely cooled, covered with plastic wrap, pressed down to remove as much air as possible. When cooled, wrap over plastic wrap with heavy-duty foil and store in freezer for up to 2 months. To prepare frozen casserole, thaw completely in refrigerator about 24 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, remove foil and plastic wrap, discard plastic wrap and re-cover with foil. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes, remove foil, return to oven and bake for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hours, until golden and bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
While my Chicken Tetrazzini was baking, I can't tell you the number of times my 12 year old and my mom asked if supper was going to be ready soon. They both were so anxious, no doubt due to the wonderful aromas that filled my kitchen, my 12 year old even offered to set the table!
The chicken was perfectly seasoned, the sauce creamy and smooth and the texture of the crisp parmesan bread crumb topping brought it all together. This is definitely one of those dishes that can please even the most diverse group of people. For me, Chicken Tetrazzini ticks all of my boxes. By using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, low fat milk, olive oil, no salt added chicken broth and salt sparingly, I had control over the fat and salt content. This dish was packed with flavour and delicious satisfaction.