November 3, 2016

Visitors to Minnesota or North Dakota are commonly mystified by hotdish, a casserole made from a miscellany of ingredients, celebrated by many in the upper Midwest. It’s such an important part of the Minnesotan culture that USA Today reported the state’s congressional delegation gathers annually for a competition to see whose recipe reigns supreme.

Wherever you live, this comfort food makes a satisfying and soothing choice for dinner as the weather grows cooler. When they learn about some of the delicious varieties that are out there, even students attending culinary schools in Texas may want to try their hand at this regional favorite. Here is all you need to know to get started creating your own version of hotdish.

The rib-sticking essentials
According to Eater, the elements that are absolutely necessary to include in hotdish are a starch, protein and vegetable bound together by a creamy sauce, usually cream of mushroom soup. It’s all baked in one dish and served piping hot. The possibilities for customization are endless, but hotdish neophytes may want to start off by following a straightforward recipe.

“Hotdish includes a starch, protein, vegetables and a creamy sauce.”

Cookbook author Amy Thielen provided The Food Network with a version held together by a homemade Bechamel sauce, rather than the more common store-bought can of soup. Her recipe calls for cooking and chopping two cups of chicken and preparing half a cup of wild rice. Cook leeks and celery in a saucepan with butter, seasoning with salt and pepper.

When the vegetables grow tender, stir in flour, then milk, bringing the mixture to a simmer. Make the sauce by adding heavy cream, chicken stock, nutmeg and thyme. Place the chicken and wild rice in the pan with either cheddar or Gouda and continue cooking until it melts.

Pour everything into a baking dish, along with more cheese. Bake in an oven set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes before topping it off with crushed crackers seasoned by olive oil and pepper. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, watching for bubbling in the center of the casserole.

Chefs can customize every aspect of hotdish with delicious results.Chefs can customize every aspect of hotdish with delicious results.

Creative casseroles
Hotdish is adaptable to almost anyone’s tastes, and chefs have accordingly invented many intriguing takes on the basic formula. For instance, Haute Dish in Minneapolis offers a stepped up version of the popular tater tot hotdish. Along with the obligatory green beans, this item features porcini mushrooms and short rib meat.

For a tater tot hotdish that’s packed with spicy flavors but more true to the casserole’s roots, try the recipe from The Pioneer Woman. It requires browning slices of sirloin beef in a cast-iron skillet before cooking onion, mushrooms, garlic and bell, poblano and jalapeno peppers in a mixture of the fat and butter. After 10 to 12 minutes, move the veggies aside and combine the resulting juices with more butter, flour and soy, hot and Worcestershire sauces.

Pour milk slowly into the gravy mixture while whisking. Once all the elements are smoothly blended, stir in the vegetables and beef. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, and then add cilantro, corn, sour cream, pepper jack and cheddar. Place frozen tater tots on top and bake the hotdish in an oven set to 350 degrees.

After 35 minutes, add more cheese and a healthy sprinkling of black pepper. Return the skillet to the oven for another 10 minutes, and then finish it off in the broiler. When the hotdish is properly browned and bubbling, throw on more peppers and cilantro for good measure and serve it up.

Hotdish may be a regional classic, but chefs and culinary academy students from anywhere can appreciate the way it combines comforting flavors and textures. Choose your favorite ingredients or just use what you have in the kitchen to make your own tasty casserole.

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