Chicken Spaghetti

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes at least

    12

    servings

Appears in

I have seen and heard about other Southern recipes for chicken spaghetti, but Craig Claiborne always swore that the dish was created by his mother and talked about up and down the Mississippi Delta. The elaborate preparation was his pride and joy, and there can be no doubt that it is a masterpiece of Southern casserole art. (The only explanation for the name is the dish’s remote similarity to classic Italian spaghetti sauce.) The casserole is, without question, something of an ordeal to prepare—Craig used to spend an entire day on the job—so to justify all the time and effort, wait for the occasion to invite at least a dozen hungry guests. With the casserole, you need to serve no more than a tart green salad and plenty of sturdy red wine.

Ingredients

  • One -pound chicken, with giblets
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups canned peeled Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with the juice retained
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ pound fresh mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • cups finely chopped celery
  • cups seeded and chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ pound ground beef round
  • ¼ pound ground pork
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • ½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 5- to 6-quart casserole and set aside.

Place the chicken and giblets in a kettle with enough water to cover and add salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and, when cool enough to handle, shred the meat and set aside. Return the skin and bones to the pot, cook the broth down over moderate heat till reduced to 5 cups, about 30 minutes, strain into a bowl, and set aside. Discard the skin and bones.

Meanwhile, place the tomatoes in a medium saucepan and cook down over moderate heat to half the original volume, stirring often.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in another medium saucepan over moderate heat, add the flour, and whisk till well blended and smooth. Add 1 cup of the broth plus the cream, whisking rapidly, and when smooth, add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Remove the white sauce from the heat.

In a large skillet, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring, till golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook, stirring, till the vegetables are crisp yet tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, beef, and pork and cook, stirring and breaking the meat apart with a large, heavy spoon, till the meats lose their pink color. Add the bay leaf, pepper flakes, reduced tomatoes, and white sauce and stir till well blended.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti till just tender, drain, and rinse under cold running water.

Spoon enough of the meat sauce over the bottom of the prepared casserole to cover it lightly and add about one-third of the cooked spaghetti. Add one-third of the shredded chicken, another layer of meat sauce, and a layer of one-third of the cheddar. Continue making layers, ending up with a layer of spaghetti topped with a thin layer of meat sauce and cheddar. Pour in about 2 cups of the broth to almost cover the top layer of spaghetti, place the casserole on top of the stove, and bring it just to a boil. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake till lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes longer. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese on the side.

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