Serious Eats: Recipes

Classic Cookbooks: Steamed Chicken in Casserole

Book CoverWhenever you hear about how people don’t have time to cook because we’re all so busy with work and kids and the gym and eight hours per day of reality television and internet surfing and whatnot, don’t you think, “Hey, people used to find time to cook because they had no choice. What’s the matter with us?”

I’m not thinking of a mid-century family helmed by a mother whose job description was to help with the PTA and have dinner on the table when father walked through the door at 6 p.m. I’m thinking of pioneers and farmers, men and women, who did hard physical labor all day long and still had to face the dreaded problem: what’s for dinner? I’m not saying I want to return to the era when we all had to grow or make just about everything we ate and wore ourselves—there are definitely days when I’m grateful that I can cop out and order a burrito. But contemplating that time does make me think that most people today, even busy people, could forgo takeout and make dinner two or three times a week if they cared to.

This idea is usually in the back of my mind but lately has been at the forefront because I’ve been reading about the summertime activity in Freetown, Virginia, during Edna Lewis’s youth. Berry-picking, harvesting, canning, gardening, gathering eggs, hunting for nests, mid-season planting, tending livestock, and butchering kept everyone busy all summer long (she doesn’t even mention the laundry and other routine housework that must have been incredibly time-consuming in those days), and yet they were eating the most gorgeous-sounding meals. During busy times, she says, dinner would be started before breakfast, since nobody would be free to watch pots all afternoon.

Here is her steamed chicken in casserole for a prepared-ahead summer dinner; it is quick to get started, doesn’t require much tending, and comes out simple and tasty. Don’t let the “steamed” in the name put you off; at the end there are plenty of buttery juices, delicious on top of white rice.

About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.

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