experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘poppy seed chicken’

Chicken Fricasee

A few months ago, my mother-in-law served her mother’s chicken fricassee recipe at our Friday family dinner, and I was hooked. I think I was pretty giddy. In fact, everyone at the table loved it so much that we ask her to make it every few weeks.

And then, one day, I realized—it was the closest thing to my beloved Southwest Baptist University college cafeteria poppy seed chicken that I’ve ever had. I immediately determined to make it myself, with poppy seeds, to see if I’d found a match for my old favorite cafeteria dish.

This Saturday evening, I got the chance to try.

The original recipe calls for cutting up a whole chicken, but I took a tip from my mother-in-law and used boneless skinless breasts instead, cutting them into serving-sized pieces. I am not a patient woman, and me and chickens have issues. I love them, bless the yummy birds, but they frustrate me.

The recipe is an easy one, calling for using a can of cream of mushroom soup to make gravy instead of using a roux of chicken broth and flour as do some fricassee recipes I’ve seen.

The recipe also called for celery, chopped onion, and pimientos. I didn’t have any celery on hand, so I added a little celery salt. I used a shallot instead of onion, since I love the sweet, mild taste of a shallot. Also, I used poppy seeds for interest instead of pimiento. (Who keeps pimientos on hand, anyway? Although I’ve had pimientos in my mother-in-law’s ham stromboli. Mmm … maybe I should get some.)

I also added a small amount of skim milk to the sauce before baking the chicken because the mixture didn’t look liquid-y enough to me, and I wanted a lot of gravy at the end of the cooking process. The addition of milk turned out to work well for my purposes.

For this recipe, you brown chicken pieces in seasoned flour, then bake them in a soup-based sauce for a long time—1 ½ to 2 hours—at low heat (300 degrees). I cooked the dish for the minimum suggested hour and a half.

When the timer dinged and I pulled the baking dish out of the oven, then pulled off the aluminum foil I used to cover it, the chicken was fall-apart tender, swimming in chicken flavored gravy, and peppered here and there with poppy seeds. Already getting happy with anticipation—yes, we’re eating chicken fricassee!—I served it with fluffy white rice and homemade oatmeal dinner rolls.

Chris pointed out to me that his friend whom we had over for dinner ate six pieces of chicken and finally just spooned gravy into his plate to eat it solo. I think that counts as a success, yes?

Furthermore, ladies and gentlemen, I can tell you that I have found my throwback poppy seed chicken. This chicken fricassee is as good as Mellers Cafeteria’s poppy seed chicken. And because it’s not made in mass quantities using unknown ingredients for hundreds of college students—and because I get to eat it now, whenever I want, not just every eight weeks or so when the cafeteria director sees fit to serve it—and because it’s not just a memory anymore—it’s better than Mellers’ poppy seed chicken.

I am satisfied.

Below is the recipe. If any of you are Southwest Baptist University alumni who ate and enjoyed Mellers Cafeteria poppy seed chicken back in the 1990s and early 2000s, you may want to try this.

Chicken Fricasee

From Grandma Kathy Nichols and “Granny D” Dorothy Weber

Revised by Sarah Nichols

4 lbs cut-up chicken or 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

¼ cup chopped celery (I used a dash of celery salt)

¼ cup chopped onion (I used 1 shallot)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

¾ cup water (I also added about ¼ cup skim milk in order to produce more gravy)

Optional: 2 pimientos, chopped

Optional: poppy seed, about 3–4 dashes

  1. Cut chicken in serving pieces and rub pieces with seasoned flour (2/3 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, pepper). I put the seasoned flour in a small bowl and turned the breasts in the flour to coat.
  2. Brown in hot fat or oil in a pan big enough to hold all the chicken. I used olive oil. If you have a Dutch oven that can go both on the range and in the oven, use it. I don’t, so I used a sauté pan with a lid. This step took me approximately 10–12 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken. Cook celery and onion (or shallot) in fat/oil until golden.
  4. If you are using a Dutch oven, drain off excess fat.  Add pimientos, soup, and water and Stir lightly to blend. Add chicken.  If you are using a sauté pan for the browning step followed by a baking dish for the baking step, place the chicken in your baking dish, then add the browned celery and onions, soup, water and milk, and pimientos or poppy seeds.
  5. Cover the dish and bake in a preheated oven (300 degrees) until tender, about 1 ½–2 hours. Arrange on platter surrounding mound of hot fluffy rice.
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Two Types of People: Those Who Love Sour Cream, and Those Who Don’t

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.

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