Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chicken Spaghetti

Tonight's meal comes from jail and fits every stereotype of jail food. It's heavy, starchy and loaded with fat.

But the creator of this baked chicken casserole missed one important stereotype about jail food -- it tastes good. And yes, it fills you, and makes you feel good about the meal.

The cooks at the Ionia County Jail, Ionia, Michigan, regularly prepare chicken spaghetti. "Inmates ask to take this recipe with them when they are released," said cook Cindi Ruehs. Cole slaw, peas, mixed fruit, bread and margarine accompany the meal.

The recipe is featured on the 2008 Jones Zylon Cooking for Crowds calendar. The company supplies the corrections industry with serving trays, dishes, flatware, carts and racks.

Monday night, I found that Reuhs' chicken spaghetti recipe easily converts into a skillet casserole dish. You'll get eight to 12 servings in a standard 10-inch skillet. A precooked (4-1/2-pound) fryer and a one-pound box of spaghetti formed the base for my recipe.

I roasted the chicken Sunday evening with one sliced onion and one carrot in a 375-degree F. oven. Monday, while spaghetti cooked in a large stockpot, I boned and diced the chicken, discarding the skin. The roasted onion and carrot added a nice flavor element to the casserole.

When cooked to al dente, I dumped the drained spaghetti and diced chicken into the skillet. I then mixed 2 (14-ounce) cans of condensed cream of chicken soup, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. The sauce, chicken and pasta were mixed in the skillet.

I baked the casserole in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Although Reuhs' adds cheese to the sauce, I elected to top the dish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese after crisping the pasta in the oven. Once I spread the cheese over the casserole, it took another 20 minutes to add some color to the cheese and bring the whole dish to 165-degrees in the center.

Chicken spaghetti is a great one-skillet dish. Add frozen broccoli flowerettes or peas to boost its flavor profile. A handful of diced flat leaf parsley makes a simple garnish.

And the nutrition profile isn't as bad as you'd think. One serving (at eight servings per skillet) contains 533 calories with 54 percent of the calories from fat. You can reduce fat in the recipe by using Campbell's 98% fat free condensed soup and discarding the chicken skin.


25 pounds diced chicken
4 cups diced green peppers
12 pounds spaghetti
3 (50-ounce) cans chicken soup
3 (50-ounce) cans mushroom soup
5 pounds shredded cheese
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons pepper
3 pounds margarine

Day before serving: Cook and dice chicken. Save chicken stock to cook spaghetti in. Dice green peppers. Day of serving: Start preparation about 2:30 p.m.

Remove fat from stock. Cook spaghetti in stock. In tilt skillet, melt margarine and saute green peppers until tender. Add soups to butter mixture and heat until warm.

Add cooked spaghetti and diced chicken. Heat to temp (165-degrees F.). Add cheese and mix in.

Servings: 120 (8-ounce) black or orange handle spoodle.

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