Some food, some drink.
[Remarkably Good] Leftover Turkey and Rice Casserole.
Somewhere along the way, casseroles got a bad rap. I'm a big fan of a good casserole, but I gotta say that there's a dogma associated with one-dish cooking that inherently dooms a casserole to mediocrity. The good casseroles are not a "dump and bake" affair. Proper casserole making is akin to Tetris in a Pyrex dish; flavors are built up and balanced in a way that makes somewhat disparate ingredients all fit together.
For this weeknight-friendly turkey and rice casserole dish, my surplus leftover holiday turkey is showcased in a matrix of rice, fresh spinach, and cheddar cheese that's been all bound together with a creamy turkey stock-fortified sauce that's entirely devoid of any canned, condensed soup. A drizzle of Sriracha to finish is optional, but recommended.
This Thanksgiving, we were a house divided. A certain significant other made it clear to me that not everyone prefers a smoked turkey, and when her grievances seemed to fall on deaf ears, she took it to a higher authority: Her mom. It was then decided by the quorum of two that Turkey Day would be a double feature; one bird smoked, and the other roasted. The bird I didn't blog about was a roasted turkey that got a rub-down of sage compound butter. It was good to be sure, but it ain't smoked turkey good.
Anyhow, I'll never complain about "too much turkey," as twice the turkey means twice the turkey leftovers; and aside from a significant volume of turkey stock I still had plenty of bird to clear after Thanksgiving. When it's time to use leftovers, the first thing that always comes to mind is a casserole; and this year my 9x9 Pyrex got a workout. After plenty of testing, my best result was this turkey and rice casserole that makes just enough to comfortably serve a family of four on a weeknight when there's time to light the oven. Originally, this was going to be a turkey and rice casserole with broccoli; but I had a third of a bag of fresh spinach in the fridge the first time I made this, and in the end, I think the brighter taste of the fresh spinach works better here than the sometimes overwhelming and temperamental flavors of a Brassica such as broccoli.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
The Subjects of our Casserole
Start by preparing the rice:
Add water, rice, and that first teaspoon of salt to a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a full simmer, give it all a stir and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Kill the heat and let the rice rest covered in the pot for another 10 minutes at least before using.
Meanwhile, while the rice is cooking:
Preheat oven to 450F
Melt butter in a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, salt-free seasoning, and minced onion. Sweat the onions for a good 10 minutes or until they become translucent and start to get soft, all the while giving 'em a stir from time time. Add flour and stir until integrated. Cook for another couple of minutes to get the raw out of the flour, then whisk in the turkey stock. Heat until just simmering over medium heat, then stir in chopped spinach, sour cream and diced turkey. Stir the cooked rice into the turkey-spinach-sauce mixture (or vice versa), then dump half into a 9x9 inch baking dish that's been lightly greased with cooking spray. Sprinkle on all but the reserved quarter cup of cheddar cheese, then top with the rest of rice mix. Combine smoked paprika and smoked salt and garnish the casserole the aforementioned smoky mixture and the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, then let rest another 10 minutes before serving (you gotta set the table and get yourself a beer anyway).
- I'm gonna have to put my foot down where the type of rice is concerned. A more starchy medium-grained rice is definitely the way to go here, as that starch will help to help keep your casserole together. I bet a sushi-style rice would work pretty good here as well.
- You could use regular old salt instead of smoked salt for the seasoning garnish, but if you've got a smoke delivery device on your back porch, then you really have no excuse. No smoker? Just go buy some smoked salt already and thank me later.
- I do think fresh spinach is the way to go here. It cooks in the casserole making for a fresher taste than that decrepit-looking frozen stuff, and I think that it actually distributes throughout the casserole a little better than the frozen stuff otherwise would.
- Don't knock the salt-free seasoning. Mrs. Dash and her ilk have got me thru many a dish. It's also fantastic as a flavor foundation for veggie dips as well. Realistically speaking however, salt-free seasoning always tastes better when combined with salt.
- You could totally use chicken broth here if you made the mistake of simply chucking your turkey carcass in the dust bin. We'll let it slide this time, but the next time you roast a bird, you should really capitalize on your resources.
As I alluded to up above, there is a misconception re: casseroles that they should all be easy to the point of being able to toss everything in a dish at once with no forethought whatsoever. I think this notion (and probably the 70s) is the reason that casseroles always seem to get no respect.
This however, is not that type casserole.
The fact that we've built up flavors in layers starting with a foundation of good homemade stock really shines thru in this dish. This here is a casserole with identifiable ingredients and tastes; and while there is a little dairy in here to move flavors along, I really don't feel like the casserole uses it as a crutch. It's kinda like, "Are you gonna dis a pizza just because it's topped with cheese?" I think you pick up what I'm putting down here.
Does it take a little longer than a boxed dinner? Sure. There's real cooking involved here, but I don't think you'll be in the kitchen much longer than you would for a pot of chili or a taco night spread, making this dish totally weeknight appropriate. Anyhow, this stuff also reheats fantastically if you wanna do-ahead. In an execution of leftovers to the power of two, I like to warm up a square or two of this casserole in the toaster oven. If you're a fan of the browned, crispy edges of a casserole then you're the type of person that'll dig "leftover leftovers" the most.