Celebrity chefs may have signature dishes, but Southern girls have signature casseroles. Southern women will practically break down your front door to bring you a casserole. It’s a compulsion.
Entire cookbooks have been written about casseroles but that is not where you find the best recipes. Community cookbooks are what you want because every woman who contributes is bringing her A game. You might not care if you write a lousy casserole recipe for a mass-produced book, but you will be mortified if you turn in something substandard in the casserole genre to a community cookbook and your bridge group finds out.
In the casserole universe, everything old is new again and I rediscovered that this week while thumbing through a very fine community cookbook published by the Newnan Georgia Times-Herald in 1967. There are the usual antiquated flourishes of recipes written at a time when Cool Whip, marshmallows and lime Jello were mainstays of the culinary landscape.
But right there on pages 57 and 60 – surrounded by recipes for Reception Salad (lemon Jello, crushed pineapple and cream cheese) and Seven Cup Salad (cottage cheese, fruit cocktail and miniature marshmallows) – was a “salad” that I first read about in a 2005 Paul Deen cookbook: Hot Chicken Salad. A casserole that dates back at least 47 years that is still on my all-time greatest casserole hit list. It was so popular in 1967 there are two recipes for it in the cookbook, one of them almost identical to old Paula’s. In fact, I got to wondering if Paula had a copy of the Favorite Recipes from Coweta County Kitchens since she’s from Georgia, too. No matter.
The thing that makes Hot Chicken Salad is the potato chips. Once you assemble the casserole, you top it with a gracious plenty of crushed potato chips. Golden Flake are the best in my opinion because there is more grease trapped in a Golden Flake potato chip than at a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.
I have made this casserole mine over the years by adding rice at the bottom, more lemon juice than Paula wanted to use and a few other flourishes. One of the original version in the Newnan, Georgia, cookbook called for pickle juice and grated American cheese.
One last thing about community cookbooks. Back in the day, the authors names were sometimes included at the end of the recipes and they spoke of a time when a woman’s place was in the home and small-town addresses were easily remembered: Mrs. A.H. Sprayberry, 4 First Street, Newnan; Mrs. J.B. Johnson, Jr., grandniece of Mrs. Parker; and Mrs. Ross Beavers, Route 1.
And when salads contained canned asparagus,maraschino cherries and tomato soup.
- Breast meat from one rotisserie chicken, shredded
- 1 ½ cups celery, diced
- ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
- ½ teaspoon minced dried onion
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- 3 cups cooked rice
- ⅔ cup crushed potato chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix together the chicken, celery, almonds, onion, lemon juice mayonnaise and cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Butter a 13-by-9 inch baking dish. Put the rice in the bottom and top with the chicken filling. Liberally sprinkle the crushed potato chips over the top.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.