Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Casserole Model

Emeril Lagasse, the gregarious chef who likes to yell “Bam!” as he hurls seasonings at food, devoted an entire program recently to casseroles. “Are casseroles necessary?” is a question that James Thurber and E. B. White might have asked, but didn’t. One churlish chef has called the casserole:

Some meat and rice and cheese and nameless goop
That’s smothered in cream of mushroom soup.

Webster’s says casserole is Provençal and originally just meant a saucepan, but this information is followed by an unappetizing modern definition: “A mold of boiled rice, mashed potato, or paste, baked and afterward filled with vegetables or meat.” No, thanks. The Oxford English Dictionary came up with this 1706 definition: “a Loaf stuff’d with a Hash of roasted Pullets, Chickens, etc., and dress’d in a Stew-Pan of the same Bigness with the Loaf.” Today, the casserole is a staple of traditional “potlucks,” church suppers, family reunions, funerals, and any meal in Minnesota. The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has written this paean:

Nothing warms the troubled soul
Like meat and stuff tossed in a bowl
And baked till brown on red-hot coal:
The glorious, gooey casserole!
But still I wonder, entre nous,
Isn’t it really just a stew?

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