We all have different ideas about what “comfort food” means. Foods that you like to indulge in when you need a pick me up, or to have a pity party. Foods that make you remember your youth, or a special time or trip. Foods that are emotionally comforting. I know we’re not supposed to eat our feelings. That we should eat to live and not live to eat, but I think that even the most health conscious and intentional eater would be able to list a few comfort foods. Some people think of foods like ice cream or chocolate as their comfort foods. For others its salty/crunchy foods like chips or popcorn. For me – creamy starchy foods like pasta and potatoes are my preferred comfort foods.
Last week I had a really busy and stressful week. I was finishing up the aforementioned move from hell, and also had two business trips acting as book ends on that move. It was a long week. Lots of driving, lots of late nights, and way too much caffeine. I had been planning to cook with my mom over the weekend, so I suggested that we make a Chicken and Rice casserole – I needed some comfort food! I also have a friend who had recently had a baby, so I thought while we were at it, I would make two batches. She and her husband could probably use some comfort food too.
Chicken & Rice Casserole
This dish is very easy, very tasty, and very comforting. What’s even better, is that the casserole base is very flexible – it can adapt to include whatever ingredients you have on hand. This recipe is actually inspired by a seafood casserole my Mom used to make around Christmas using shrimp and crab instead of chicken. I think part of the reason I find this casserole comforting is the memories of eating it at the holidays when I was little.
1 1/2 lbs skin on, on the bone chicken breasts (this is about 3 breasts, and will yield enough chicken for a double batch of this recipe or one batch plus extra chicken to put on salads throughout the week).
1 cup uncooked basmati rice, prepared to package instructions.
1 cup mayonnaise (I guess you could use light, but don’t come at me with fat free mayo. Mayo is made of eggs and oil, and therefore can’t be fat free whilst still honestly being mayo).
1 can cream of celery soup
1/2 small can of sliced water chestnuts
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Panko bread crumbs
Salt & Pepper
Begin by placing the chicken breasts, skin side up on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and generously salt and pepper each side. Roast at 375 for an hour to an hour and a half, or until a meat thermometer registers at 160. Allow chicken to cool completely.
Once the chicken is cooled, shred it into large chunks using your hands or two forks. Discard the skin. You may want to freeze the bones for making stock later.
In a large mixing bowl incorporate the mayo, cream of celery soup, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Stir in the water chestnuts, 2 heaping cups of shredded chicken, and the cooked rice. Once everything is well combined – evaluate the consistency. You may want to add a little milk to thin it out.
Pour into a greased 9×13 baking dish, and spread out evenly using a spatula. Top with panko bread crumbs, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, then broil (keeping an eye on it) till the bread crumbs turn golden brown.
Serve with a big green salad, or your favorite veggies.
Ideas to improvise on the recipe: add in steamed broccoli or frozen peas for some added color and nutrition, use tuna instead of chicken, use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store instead of roasting your own. Have fun with it.