I love recipes like this basic chicken casserole. It’s the starting point for many other dishes. You make a large batch of the starter casserole, freeze in portions and add some extras to serve a different meal every time.
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This is Investment Cooking in the best sense. You need to spend some time making the casserole, but then you have the basis for four meals for four in the freezer. Fewer people to cook for? More meals in the freezer! There’s nothing tricky about making a basic chicken casserole – it’s just chicken, onions and stock (obviously best if you’ve made it yourself, otherwise buying fresh stock gives a better flavour than a cube).
Equipment for Investment Cooking
As with all Investment Cooking, you need big pans for this amount of food. I have an enormous frying pan that I inherited from my mother. Come the day I remodel the kitchen and get an induction hob, I will have to change it, but for now, it’s great. If you don’t have a big enough pan, use a couple of smaller frying pans to speed up the process. You don’t want to crowd the pan, especially with meat, or it doesn’t cook quickly enough and starts to weep and then it stews instead of sears.
You will also need a large casserole dish, but again you could easily manage with two smaller ones.
Cutting down the prep time
If you’re on a budget and/or you have more time, then buy three or four whole chickens and cut them up. This used to be my preferred option when I had the time, but now I don’t always have the inclination so I use chicken joints. For even speedier prep, buy boneless thighs and breasts.
I do think that the quality of the chicken really counts. I prefer to have less meat that’s better quality, e.g. free-range at least, and you see it when you brown chicken like this.
You could buy ready-prepared onions, or you could do as I do and prepare a batch of onions another week and freeze them ready to use in this recipe.
Investment Cooking gets you ahead for the week
I always feel a bit virtuous when I’ve made something like this casserole – not to mention relieved that there’s something in the freezer for days when I don’t know what to cook, or when I know I won’t have much time. Especially in the winter when the last thing I want to do after a day’s work is to spend ages cooking – or even thinking about cooking.
When I’m really organised I have a spreadsheet which tells me what’s for dinner. I have a four-week rota, although a lot of the recipes appear every week or fortnight. The point of it isn’t to be strict about what we eat, but to take away the pain of having to think about what to cook. It’s like a fallback solution. If we don’t have anything else to eat, then this is what I’ll cook. That way I can get prepared the day before because the real problem is not the cooking, but the thinking. I can spend too much time looking in the fridge or the freezer for inspiration and the meal plan is a liberation. I’ll have to find it – or make another one – and basic chicken casserole with variations will definitely be on it.
What can you make with Basic Chicken Casserole?
- Chicken and Leek Pie – Add leeks, bacon and ready-rolled puff pastry for an easy midweek pie
- Moroccan Chicken – Add chickpeas, rice, peppers, and spices, for an exotic one-pot meal, good for entertaining too
- Chicken and Chorizo Casserole – Add chorizo, tomatoes and herbs for a spicy, warming supper
- Chicken Cobbler – Add mushrooms and make a scone topping for a different sort of pie
- Paprika Chicken Casserole – Add roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and soured cream. Can be prepared ahead and cooked in the oven on the timer.
- Splash screen – for the (very large) frying pan. I’ve managed to cook for decades without one, but it was a revelation. This really does reduce the amount of oil splatter. I can get into a bit of a rut and think that I don’t need any new gadgets, having managed for years without, then I buy one and don’t know how (or why!) I managed without it. Apple corer, I’m thinking of you!
Basic Chicken Casserole
- 600 g onions
- 2 kg chicken joints, without bone see Note
- 6 tablespoons flour - plain or wholemeal (90ml)
- 2-3 teaspoons salt
- ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (20g)
- 50 g butter
- 900 ml chicken or turkey stock
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 170°C fan/ gas mark 5/ 375°F
- Peel, halve or quarter, and slice the onions
- Cut the chicken breasts into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on size
- Put the flour, salt, and pepper in the bag and shake to mix
- Put the chicken pieces in the bag and shake to ensure they are evenly covered in flour
- Heat the stock in a saucepan or microwave oven
For the Basic Chicken Casserole:
- Put the frying pan on a medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil and half the butter
- When the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook until just golden, stirring occasionallyThis may take 30 minutes
- Remove the onions to the casserole dish
- Put half the chicken in the frying pan and cook until browned on both sidesThe aim is to seal the juices in the chicken, not to cook the chicken through
- Take the chicken out and put in the casserole dish
- Repeat with the rest of the butter and chicken
- Pour some of the stock into the frying pan and stir to pick up any remains
- Pour all the boiling stock over the chicken and onions in the casserole dish
- Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes
- Cool, divide into 4 batches and freeze
Everyday Cooks Tips:Portion size: This recipe is for 16 portions so you will need between 1.6 kg and 2 kg meat, depending on how much your family eats. Typically 8-12 thighs and 4-6 large chicken breasts (cut into 2-3 pieces). Basic chicken casserole is the foundation for meals such as:
- Chicken and Leek Pie - Add leeks, bacon and ready-rolled puff pastry for an easy midweek pie
- Moroccan Chicken - Add chickpeas, rice, peppers, and spices, for an exotic one-pot meal
- Chicken Cobbler - Add mushrooms and make a scone topping for a different sort of pie
- Paprika Chicken Casserole - Add roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and soured cream
- Chicken and Chorizo Casserole - Add chorizo, tomatoes and a pepper.