Friday, January 1, 2016

Chicken and Wild Rice

Last Year's Post:  Korean Seafood Pancakes
Two Years Ago:   Smashed Potatoes

I was watching a cooking show the other day where the star was making a casserole with what she claimed was wild rice.  It was actually a rice blend that was probably 90% white rice with a few grains of wild rice sprinkled in.  If you're from the Upper Midwest as I am where wild rice is hallowed, this is unforgivable.  When we talk about wild rice, we mean 100% wild rice.  It got me thinking nostalgically about Byerlys, the best grocery store in the world, and all their great wild rice recipes (they also have a cooking school, a catering function, gift shops, and the. grocery. stores.) Plus, they have every gourmet ingredient you could ever imagine - kind of like Whole Foods but ten times bigger and better.  I miss Byerlys.

Anyway, it inspired me to look up their chicken and wild rice recipe, which I've had for probably 20 years at least.  One way I could tell it was relatively old (and from Minnesota, where ketsup is a spice) is that it called for canned mushroom soup and canned mushrooms but almost nothing in terms of seasoning.  I remember really liking the recipe but had a strong suspicion that if I made it today it would taste really bland.  

So, I fell down the recipe-remake rabbit hole and ended up changing almost everything. Chicken cutlets were substituted for chicken breasts to cut down on portion size and calories.  Kale and roasted red peppers were added for taste, nutrition and color. A healthy homemade sauce replaced the canned soup, and fresh wild mushrooms replaced the canned mushrooms.  Fresh thyme and garlic were added for seasoning, and toasted almonds for crunch.  Whew.

The wild rice can be cooked in advance.  (For that matter, you could prepare the whole thing in advance and just bake it on the night on the night you want it.)  After cooking the wild rice, the sauce is prepared starting with wilting the kale, then sauteing the mushrooms.

The sauce continues by making a roux with butter and flour, then adding the liquids slowly so it doesn't get lumpy.  The kale and red peppers are added, then some of the sauce is reserved before adding the wild rice and most of the almonds (save a few for garnish) to the remainder.

The wild rice goes in a prepared dish, topped with the chicken cutlets.  I had two small chicken cutlets and one large breast so I ended up cutting them into similar pieces which resulted in 6 smallish pieces total.

Top the chicken with the remaining sauce and cheese, then bake.

When you change a recipe that much you have to be prepared that it isn't going to be right the first time, but I was really happy with the results and wouldn't change a thing.  It was delicious and had great texture from the chewy wild rice and crunchy almonds.  Yes, it's more work than opening a few cans, but it tastes better and it's so much healthier.  You could use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken, turkey or ham just as easily. Or as an alternative, you could saute the cutlets separately and place them on top of the plated wild rice so you can see the chicken better, but I like serving it this way...the Byerlys way.  Sigh.

Chicken and Wild Rice
Serves 4

2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup wild rice
1/2 bunch of kale, leaves stripped off steams and chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup 2% milk
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
4 chicken cutlets or 2 chicken breasts cut in half horizontally
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded (or parmesan, or a combination of both)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper

Rinse and drain the wild rice.  Bring water or broth to boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the wild rice; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes.  Check to determine if grains are swollen and most are split.  If not, check again every five minutes until done (typically 45-50 minutes).  Remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool. (May be made a day or two in advance.  Keep covered and refrigerated.)

Spray a 9”x12” baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-­high heat. Add the kale and 1 cup of water to the skillet. Cover and cook for 10­ minutes, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted. Once the kale is wilted and most of the water has been absorbed, remove the kale and drain well.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the skillet is hot, add the mushrooms in a single layer. Let cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then stir and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the butter to the skillet. Once the butter is melted reduce the heat and add the garlic, thyme and nutmeg and cook for about 10 seconds.

Combine the milk, broth and sherry in a measuring cup.  Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth combination a little at a time, stirring constantly to allow the flour to absorb the liquid before adding more (this prevents lumps).  Increase the heat and bring to a boil; cook stirring constantly for 2-­3 minutes until thickened. Add the sour cream and stir to combine, then add the kale and roasted red peppers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and reserve 1 ½ cups of sauce, then add the remaining sauce to the cooked wild rice. Pour the wild rice mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

Lay the chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture and cover with the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the cheese on top and cover with foil.  Bake the casserole for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake or broil a few more minutes to lightly brown the top.

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