When I was in college, there was one meal the university cafeteria served that I absolutely loved: poppy seed chicken over rice. Even after I moved off campus in the middle of my junior year, I always ate at the cafeteria the nights they served poppy seed chicken.
A few years later, I was a newlywed compiling recipes for my favorite childhood meals into a personal cookbook, and I thought about that poppy seed chicken. In a fit of nostalgia for the good old college days, I researched poppy seed chicken recipes online and added one of them to my cookbook, along with recipes from Mom and Aunt Marilyn and Grandma Tena and Granny Baker and my best friend’s mom, Linda Hensley.
Last week, I got to thinking that I’d never made several of the recipes in my personal cookbook. I sat down to read through the chicken section, and came across the recipe for “Poppy Seed Poultry Casserole.” Why not? I thought. I do miss that poppy seed chicken.
“Did you like that poppy seed chicken they served in the cafeteria back in college?” I asked my husband.
“Not particularly,” said Chris.
I wasn’t letting anything curb my enthusiasm. So I said, “Mind if I make some poppy seed chicken next Monday?”
Chris shrugged, and I think maybe he rolled his eyes. This means, Whatever floats your boat, Sarah. I guess he didn’t want to argue about poppy seed chicken.
Over the week I purchased a couple of ingredients for the dish that I didn’t have on hand—poppy seeds, dill, and one that concerned me: sour cream. I don’t like sour cream much. I’m not sure why I originally selected a recipe that included eight ounces of sour cream, but maybe back in the early 2000s there weren’t as many recipes online from which to choose. And I don’t mind sour cream when baked in coffee cakes or cookies, even though can’t stand it in a burrito or on top of nachos … I don’t know why I have these feelings about sour cream.
Maybe I wouldn’t be able to taste it in the final dish.
At any rate, I decided to forge ahead with the poppy seed chicken, and when Monday afternoon rolled around, I rushed home from my job and got to work.
While sautéing two boneless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size pieces), I mixed together one can of cream of chicken soup, eight ounces of sour cream, one tablespoon of poppy seeds, one teaspoon of dill, and 3 cups of cooked rice. I added the sautéed chicken, then pressed the mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Then I mixed some Ritz cracker crumbs with a little butter and sprinkled the cracker crumbs over the top of the dish. Next I placed the dish in the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
At dinner, I took one bite and knew: I hated this dish. All I could taste was the sour cream, permeating everything. This was not the poppy seed chicken of my memories.
As I sat, trying to force down a few bites, trying to like it, Chris exclaimed, “Hey, I love this stuff!”
I looked up. I paused, then said, “I don’t think I like it.”
“What?” said Chris. “You better not be telling me I’m not going to get to have this again! Because that would be bad.”
“I don’t like the sour cream,” I said, mournfully. “I was afraid this would happen.”
“I can’t even taste the sour cream,” said Chris.
“Well, I don’t think I can finish this,” I said. “And I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot left over.”
“That’s okay,” said Chris. “I’m going to have seconds—and maybe thirds.”
I watched as Chris cleaned his plate, left the table, and then returned, the entire plate heaped with poppy seed poultry casserole (with sour cream). And told me several more times how delicious it was.
Well, I’m glad he liked it. Maybe a lot of people would like it. But now I have to find the dish I dreamed of—I have to find a poppy seed chicken dish that tastes like the one I had in the college cafeteria.
And when I do, will I love it and Chris hate it? No, I won’t believe that. Somewhere out there is a poppy seed chicken and rice dish that we both can love …
I am looking for you, chicken.