August 31, 2017 – Casseroles can be wonderful! It’s not difficult to make one. They have the added benefit of providing more than one meal. It’s a way to eat well without having to create a new meal every day. And often the leftovers can be refashioned into something new. In today’s busy world, a casserole can be a blessing.
My decision to prepare a casserole with ground meat and rice required a negotiation. When it comes to ground meat, I like beef. My wife likes turkey. We compromised and used turkey. If you have to compromise on the side of turkey also, be sure to add a little oil to the skillet before you put the meat in to brown. Ground turkey has no fat of its own.
As you might imagine, there are scores of recipes available for a ground meat and rice casserole. They’re all pretty much the same. Most call for cream of mushroom soup. Some also include chicken noodle soup. Most suggest mixing in raw rice to cook with everything else.
Using cream of mushroom soup can be a time saver and I wouldn’t criticize anyone for doing so. However, it’s main purpose in a recipe is as a substitute for a béchamel sauce. It’s not that hard to make a béchamel sauce. You make a blonde roux with flour and oil, add milk, and there you go. It’s especially easy since for this recipe you need only about a cup of béchamel.
I really couldn’t figure out all the recipes that included chicken noodle soup. The only reason that comes to mind is to provide chicken stock to cook the rice in. If that’s the case, why not just use chicken stock? I don’t think the noodles in a canned soup add much.
Finally, I’ve never found raw rice cooked with all the other ingredients in a casserole to result in perfectly cooked rice. It works much better, in my view, to cook the rice separately and fold it into the remaining ingredients. Since the meat is going to be browned and the vegetables sautéed to soften them, mixing in the cooked rice means the casserole needs only a few minutes in the oven to heat through.
To cook the rice, your favorite method is fine. Many people use rice cookers these days. I still prefer the old-fashioned method I learned from my mother. Produces perfect rice every time.
In this recipe you’ll notice that I suggest seasoning with each step. Layering the seasoning provides depth. Just use a light touch and taste as you go. I believe that you can always add seasonings but it’s really hard to take them out.
The recipe below turned out to be a delicious bit of comfort food. And a few drops of Tabasco made it perfect!
Turkey & Rice Casserole
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4 inch slices
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
For the béchamel:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup milk
For the rice:
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
Pepper sauce (optional)
Place half a tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet and warm it over moderate heat. Add the turkey. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer pink. It’s not going to brown like beef. Season lightly and to taste with salt, pepper, and, if you wish, cayenne. Remove it from the skillet and place in a bowl.
Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet, When it is hot but not smoking, toss in the onion, roasted red pepper, celery, fennel, and mushrooms. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring often. Add the garlic toward the end of the process as it burns easily. Season lightly again to taste. Stir the vegetables into the ground turkey and mix well.
For the béchamel, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over moderately high heat. Add the flour and stir until the flour has absorbed the oil. Don’t let it brown. Pour in the milk and continue stirring until the mixture thickens. Again, season lightly to taste. Scrape the béchamel into the ground turkey and vegetable mixture. Combine well.
To cook the rice my way, bring the chicken broth or stock to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the rice. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Leave it alone for exactly 20 minutes.
When the rice is done, mix it into the ground turkey and vegetables. Add the Worcestershire. Stir to mix everything together. Taste for seasonings and make any adjustments with salt, pepper, and cayenne as desired.
You can make the casserole to this point in advance. Covering it and keeping it refrigerated will improve the dish by giving the flavors more time to get acquainted. Take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to put it in the oven so it can come to room temperature.
Turn the entire mixture into an oven proof dish and cover it. If your dish doesn’t have a fitted cover, aluminum foil will work. Heat for 15 – 20 minutes in an 350 oven until it’s warmed through.
When plated, add a few drops of your favorite pepper sauce if desired.