The best chicken casserole

17 April 2013
Chicken is such a versatile meat. It's not too heavy, most children seem to like it and it will easily make up into soups, casseroles, schnitzels, finger food and curries, and who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned roast chicken with vegetables and gravy.  We buy free range chicken from Aldi. It's not expensive and it tastes good. I've bought other free range and organic chicken but I always come back to Aldi because I haven't found anyone to match their quality and price. Generally, we have two or three frozen chickens in the freezer. They're handy to keep in case visitors arrive out of the blue or if we need to have a few pre-cooked meals on hand in the freezer.



This dish is really versatile. I make it as a casserole but by adding more chicken stock or water, along with ½ cup barley or lentils, you can turn it into a hearty soup. Served with homemade herb dumplings, it makes the ideal winter warmer. Served with rice and salad, it makes the perfect autumn or spring evening meal.

Let's call it Down to Earth Chicken. If you eat it all on the first day the sauce is delicious and complex because it's cooked with bones and real stock, but like all dishes cooked in a sauce, it will improve on the second day. This recipe calls for chicken stock or chicken bone broth. I usually keep this in the freezer in one litre/quart containers. I make it with the bones left from roast chicken or when I bone a whole chicken.

Bone broth/chicken stock
Chop the bones with a cleaver or cut them with poultry shears, that allows more marrow to be released. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the broth will help draw out more minerals from the bones. You can add vegetables, such as onion, leek, carrots or celery, in with the bones for extra taste and vitamins, but that's optional. Bring the bones to the boil and then turn down and simmer for two to three hours, or add them to the slow cooker and cook on low for 24 hours. Remove any scum should it develop. Allow it to cool, add it to your containers and freeze, or store in the fridge for up to 48 hours. The stock should develop a jelly effect when it's cold. This is a good sign it's full of nutrients. You can cook the bones twice and get two portions of stock. I find if I try for a third time, the flavour doesn't come through.

Ingredients for the chicken casserole
  • Start with a whole chicken, defrosted or fresh OR about 1.5kg/3.3 lbs chicken pieces
  • ½ cup plain flour seasoned well with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced finely
  • herbs - what's in the garden or the fridge? Either parsley, sage, chives, thyme or oregano would be good in this. Go with what you have on hand. Whatever it is, chop it finely, add most to the dish but leave a sprinkling to be added just before serving.
  • 1 litre/quart homemade chicken stock or chicken bone broth. 

Method
  1. You can either cut the chicken in half or in pieces. You don't want to serve the chicken on the bones but you do want to cook it with the bones. If you debone the chicken, include the bones in with the flesh and remove them later.
  2. Coat the chicken all over with the seasoned flour.
  3. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan and fry the chicken until it's brown. You don't want to cook the chicken, just develop the flavour and a good colour.
  4. Add the vegetables and brown them for a few minutes.
  5. Add the herbs.
  6. Pour in the chicken stock, stir the chicken and vegetables to incorporate the stock.
  7. Bring to the boil and then place the covered dish in a slow oven on about 180C/350F for about 1½ hours, or cook in the slow cooker.
The chicken will be ready when it's tender and the sauce has thickened. Serve with mashed potato, rice or herb dumplings.

Ingredients for herb dumplings
  • 2 cups of self raising flour OR 2 cups of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder added
  • salt and pepper
  • Rub into the flour about two tablespoons of softish butter. Rub the butter in with your finger tips, just like you would when making scones, until it resembles breadcrumbs
  • Chopped parsley, chives or the green tops of spring onions
  • Add enough water to make a firm dough.
Forms small balls and drop them into the casserole and put the lid back on. They will take about 15 minutes to cook so if you're going to add them, do so 20 minutes before the end of your casserole cooking time.

Feeding the baby
Babies thrive on this sort of nourishing food and it will make food preparation easier for you if the baby eats what the family is eating. If you're already feeding your older baby a variety of fruits and vegetables, this meal would be a good one to introduce at around 9 months. Take a small portion - about two or three tablespoons full out of the pot - making sure you have small amounts of chicken, vegetables and sauce. Cut the chicken into very small pieces and mash the vegetables. Make sure there are no big chunks and the baby will probably love this food as much as the older members of the family do.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do. Apart from portioning the chicken, it's very straight forward, even for new cooks. It freezes well so it's a good dish to make up in advance to serve up on those busy nights when you need just a bit of extra help. If you make it, let me know what you think or post about it on your own blog and send me the link. I think this is a real winner, I hope you do too.