I will admit that the Poppyseed Chicken Casserole is one of my favorite meals ever. Here, due to popular demand, is the recipe. It's from one of my favorite cookbooks ever, My Mother's Southern Kitchen by James Villas. Several years ago we were hosting a birthday party for our "southern" (Virginian) sister in law and had a southern food theme. (Fewest. Leftovers. Ever.) A friend in my office who was an actual cookbook author recommended this as one of her favorites for southern cooking (this is pre-Paula Deen, y'all) with not-too-difficult recipes (important, as I was just learning to cook). We haven't had a loser from here yet. And since one of my favorite parts of the book is the stories that go with, pardon the length of the post but I want to capture all the details. (And as a note, I have used the low-fat versions of every ingredient [except the butter] that has one and the flavor is still good. Not the amazing that the whole-fat-artery clogger is, but still a great dinner. As I wrote in my cookbook the first time I made it, "A total winner. Yum! Easy! Only a cardiologist wouldn't enjoy.")
Poppy Seed Chicken
Over the years, reciprocal cooking interest have been shared by each and every member of our large extended family, as children and grandchildren have grown up and married other Southerners, and all seem to have contributed something to Mother's kitchen repertory. She was first exposed to this simple casserole when she once drove up to Raleigh to baby-sit a few days with her two great-grandchildren and found the refrigerator full of prepared dishes so that she wouldn't have to cook. She later got the recipe from her granddaughter-in-law, Alice Royal, and has since shared it with other family members and friends.
6 chicken breast halves
one 10-1/4 oz can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons poppy seeds, plus extra for topping
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 lb (one stack) Ritz crackers, crushed
1/2 cup (one stick) margarine or butter, melted
Place the chicken breasts in a pot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook till tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate and, when cool enough to handle, bone and skin the chicken, cut in to bite-size pieces, and place in a mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the soup, sour cream, lemon juice, and poppy seeds to the chicken and mix till well blended. Transfer the mixture to a medium-size baking dish and spread the crackers over the top. Drizzle the margarine over the crackers, sprinkle poppy seeds liberally on top, and bake till bubbly and slightly browned on top, about 30 min.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Martha Pearl says: "This is one of a number of simple dishes I like to make for sick people, shut-ins, and bereaved friends. What I do is prepare the unbaked casserole in disposable aluminum pans and include instructions for cooking. That way, all that has to be done is to pop the casserole in the oven with no worry about having to return the container."
And I am with Martha Pearl on this. This is my go-to dish for dropping off to new moms or sick folks with a bag of salad and a microwavable bag of rice and frozen veggie. (That way, it's all freezable--except the salad of course--and can be used whenever. I print the directions on masking tape on the foil on top.) And if you want to split it in to two, make sure it's two shallow dishes so you can double the amount of yummy topping!