I don’t know about you, but I’ve cooked with canned soup all my life. It’s not quite that I wouldn’t know how to cook without it, but close. How do you make tuna casserole or King Ranch chicken without cream of mushroom soup?
Several years ago I wrote a memoir/cookbook and submitted the manuscript to a university press known for cookbooks. The critique was fairly damning. The reviewer called my recipes “faux gourmet.” The particular target of scorn was King Ranch casserole for which the anonymous critic claimed one should always make their own Bechamel sauce in place of the canned soup.
Canned soup recipes have probably been around as long as canned soups, and probably been controversial just as long. The critic’s comment sounded like snobbery to me, but a lot of people simply prefer not to use canned ingredients. One person on a web forum about canned soups said she objected to tomato soup recipes, because they left an aftertaste. I don’t particularly like beef-based soups, like vegetable beef, and I dislike the smell when someone is heating one in the office microwave. What do I really mean by canned soups? Creamed soups, such as chicken, mushroom, and celery. But then there’s that good bacon/spinach dip recipe that calls for cheddar cheese soup (not always easy to find). There are also products like instant or condensed broth or dried onion soup mix, from which almost everyone makes that sour cream dip that disappears as soon as you put it out. But I’m talking those basic creamed soups.
Some people object that canned soups are high in sodium and fat. Yes, but you can buy low sodium and low fat. Others simply prefer not to use canned soups and make white sauce, as the lofty critic did, or use one of the recipes for substitutes on the web. Trouble with those recipes is by the time you’ve made them, you’ve avoided prepared soup but used at least four other prepared ingredients, gone to a lot of trouble, and probably (I don’t know this for sure) produced a pretty tasteless or artificial-tasting product.
All this is leading up to the Grandma’s Chicken Casserole which I fixed the other night. It was deceptively simple and so good! I have no idea where I got the recipe, but if you gave it to me and are reading this, please let me know. I’d like to give credit where credit is due.
Grandma’s Chicken Casserole
1 rotisserie chicken (I used the traditional seasoned one), meat diced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 cups Ritz crackers, finely crushed
Arrange the diced chicken in a casserole dish. Spoon the soup evenly over the meat. Cover with shredded cheese, and top with Ritz crackers. Bake at 350o until thoroughly heated and crackers begin to brown. You could probably halve this easily.
Want that queso recipe? I served it at parties, but I also sometimes put tortilla chips in individual bowls, spooned the queso over them, and told my kids, “Here’s dinner.”
1 lb. hamburger
1 lb. pork sausage – mild, medium or hot, according to your taste; I use medium
1 16 oz. jar Pace picante sauce – no other brand will do, but again you have your choice of mild, medium or hot
1 can mushroom soup
1 lb. Velveeta, cubed
Yes, I know. I almost never use Velveeta, but it is the only thing that works for this recipe.
Brown the meat and then dump all ingredients into your crockpot. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts. Serve hot.
For years I’ve thought there was only one way to make King Ranch chicken, but I’ve lately realized there are many versions. If you want mine, which is easy and really good, please let me know. Write me at email@example.com.