What is your comfort food? (I have, oh, so many). Mine tend toward the heavy-carb side: mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken and dumplings, you get the drift. But it has occurred to me recently that sometimes comfort food is defined not so much by the food itself or its taste, but by comfort associations with that food.
We have a Brazilian restaurant near our office, one of our favorite places to eat. Occasionally (verrrrrry occasionally) we will send out for lunch there. It is way too pricey to make this place a lunch (or even dinner) habit. But the food is stupendous.
It has some fancy-schmancy dishes on the menu—heck, they all look fancy-schmancy to me—but one that I love for lunch is a lovely chicken salad type of thing they call SALPICAO. It is a warm dish, not the cold Southern chicken salad. The menu describes it as: Finger-shredded chicken breast, Fuji apples, carrots, sweet peas, fresh herbs batata palha (potato shoestrings) served over rice. $13.95.
So, you can see that I don’t send out for lunch at that price very often; only when I need, well, comfort or if I feel especially deserving. Still, it is one of those dishes that I frequently get a hankering for, whether or not I give in on the budget considerations.
The Salpicao and rice combine as you eat, the savories of the shoestring potatoes, the chicken and mayo foil the sweetness of the apples and peas. And the rice is just a wonderful, bland carrier for it all! It is delightful, and I find on the internet that it is a traditional Brazilian recipe.
But rolling around in the back of my pea brain was the idea that this food reminds me of something I know; that I enjoy it, not just because of the taste, but because of some association…it reminds me of something, but what? No chicken salad I’ve ever made has been warm or served over rice. That combination just would not occur to me.
Does your brain continue to work on things even when you are not aware of it? Mine seems to. One day I was doing something entirely unrelated to food and the puzzle pieces snapped into place! I knew, at last: Salpicao reminds me of a chicken casserole my mother used to make. We’re talking real comfort food, here.
Again, remember, that it is not so very much about taste, here. The reminiscence has to do with the combination of textures, the chicken plus the rice; oh, I don’t know what all goes into making this association. My rational brain picks apart the comparison, saying “there is no sweetness in the casserole like in the Salpicao…yadayadayada…” But, the association for me is there, strongly. So, I offer you the following comfort recipe: Mom’s Chicken and Rice Casserole.
Now, recall, that this is not HEALTH food—it is heavily processed. Nor is it haute cuisine, coming right out of cans and boxes, as it does. But for me, it is pure comfort, recalling a Mom who always tended her children, making sure we had filling, delicious meals. And it harkens me back to the comfort of my childhood under her watchful care.
Think of this recipe as a blank canvas, because it is fairly bland. Mom used to add slivered almonds (mmmmm) and sometimes a sprinkle of pimientos for color. You could sauté some celery and bell pepper to go it it, and I’ve thought about doing something crunchy for the top (batata pahla, maybe??). But I love it just like this:
Mom’s Chicken and Rice Casserole
1 cup of Minute Rice 1 can of Cream of Chicken Soup
2 - 5 oz. cans of chicken 1 Soup can full of milk
a little butter to dot over the top
Mix it all up and put it in a greased casserole dish. A 9 x 13” pan works fine. Bake at 350 degrees until the rice has absorbed the milk and it begins to get crunchy around the edges. About 30 or 40 minutes.
I have done this in the microwave, but the texture changes. It becomes almost like a savory rice pudding rather than rice casserole. While this presentation has its own charms and I do this when I am in a hurry, I prefer the conventional oven.
It is nice to have ingredients in the pantry so you can whip up a hot meal in a pinch. I have even used powdered milk and can tell no difference, so it is possible to keep all on hand.
So, there’s my comfort food thought for the day…what’s yours? C’mon! Share! C