However, I frequently have an issue with the ingredients in casserole. I tend to create my own rather than working with a recipe that calls for things I can't stand, like mayonnaise or cream of X soup. The plus side of making my own casseroles, means I have a fairly good base of knowledge on how to create the same delicious effect without those ingredients.
When looking for a way to use up some leftover water chestnuts (HA! I bet you thought I was going to say Chipotles!) I stumbled across the recipe for an "Unforgettable Chicken Casserole." It's been a while since we had casserole, and I liked the idea of using the water chestnuts in a non-stirfry type dish. But this is one of the most stereotypical casserole dishes out there and therefore had to be grossly modified to pass muster on my table.
The original recipe calls for 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup mayonnaise, and a can of cream of chicken soup. Just thinking about it almost makes me arteries close up in protest. To be fair, I can't promise that my solution is much healthier - butter isn't winning any awards lately, but I do prefer a nice white sauce as a base, and then I can control the fats and sodium that go into it. Typically I would make this white sauce with skim milk. It's just how we do things around here. But to get the "sour cream" kick, I made this with lowfat buttermilk. Buttermilk and chicken just go so well together. In fact, the only thing that buttermilk and chicken need to sweeten the pot is nice quick fry. Which is accomplished by topping the casserole with fried onion strings. The onion strings are also part of the original recipe - calling for a can of them. However, once again I like to take matters into my own hand where I have more control, and I made my own. And it's a great way to use up some of that buttermilk you now have hanging out in your fridge!
Buttermilk Chicken Casserole (adapted from Unforgettable Chicken Casserole)
1 large sweet onion (vidalia, maui, etc.), sliced thin
3 cups of buttermilk
1/2 cup of flour
canola or peanut oil (for frying)
4 Tbsp butter
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
- Make the onion rings. Separate the slices of onions into their rings. Put them in a shallow dish and pour 1 cup of the buttermilk over. Soak for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.
- Spread 1/4 cup of the flour in another shallow dish and dip the rings into this mixture, coating them completely.
- Heat the oil to 370. Fry the rings in batches until they are golden brown - you want them pretty crispy for this dish. Place on paper towel to drain.
- While onions are cooling, preheat the oven to 350 and melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
- Add the remaining flour, stirring until combined. Continue cooking and stirring until a bubbly paste forms.
- Slowly pour in the remaining buttermilk, stirring as it is added in. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens (2-3 minutes).
- Add the chicken, celery, cheese, water chestnuts and almonds to the sauce. Stir until combined and then spoon into a casserole dish. Bake for 40 minutes.
- Crumble the onion rings over the top of the casserole. Bake 5 more minutes or until bubbly around edges. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.