The Art of the Hotdish
When I moved to Minnesota more than 15 years ago, I was invited to a
colleague's home for dinner. She said we were going to have a Minnesota favorite: hotdish.
The first thing I thought was, "Wow, here is somebody who likes spicy food! I wonder if she will use cayenne pepper or fresh chilies?"
I learned quickly that "hotdish" was another name for "casserole" and the spiciness of the components didn't necessarily have anything to
do with it.
Author Beatrice Ojakangas tells us in "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever" (Chronicle books 2008), that "The word 'casserole' can either refer
to the dish that the food is cooked in or the food itself." She goes on to say that casseroles became popular in the 1950s, mainly because they got the cook in and out of the kitchen fast.
Hotdish is still a popular entertaining choice for the busy cook. It can be assembled ahead of time and can be held if guests are late to arrive.
With the cold winters of the Northland, I quickly learned that stick-to-your-ribs meals with lots of sauce made the perfect meal. It made sense for me to jump onto the hotdish bandwagon once I was vetted in the basics.
Don't get me wrong, we had hotdishes in Louisiana where I grew up, but they were always a supporting role for the meat, which was usually
cooked outside all year 'round. Those hotdishes always had rice and some sort of green vegetable -- mainly broccoli -- and lots of cheese. They
were stand-ins when we tired of macaroni and cheese, which was a popular choice for Sunday dinner.
My sister-in-law Donna was famous in our family for her creamy crawfish casserole. When my nephew got married, I made Donna's crawfish casserole for the 350 hungry Cajuns who attended his wedding dinner. Today, I make it for company and, living in Minnesota, I call it a hotdish. I substitute wild rice for the usual white rice and I make the cream sauce from scratch. It takes a little more work than simply opening a can, but
the results of a homemade sauce are nothing short of delicious.
Donna's Crawfish Hotdish
This recipe is great for potluck gatherings because a little goes a long way.
Yields 10-12 Servings
1 eight-ounce package cream cheese
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, plus 1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds crawfish tail meat, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 eight-ounce package of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 14-ounce can of cream of mushroom soup, undiluted or 1½ cups of homemade cream sauce, recipe follows.
2 c cooked wild rice
3 dashes white pepper
½ tsp ground red pepper
1-2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 eight-ounce package shredded cheddar cheese
1 can Durkee brand fried onions for topping
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Melt cream cheese and 1 stick of butter together in saucepan over medium heat; set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onion, green pepper and mushrooms until soft. Add crawfish and cook for three to five minutes more. Add canned soup or cream sauce, wild rice and butter/cream cheese mixture. Add seasonings and pour into a 9x13 casserole dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Top with shredded cheese and fried onions and bake 30-45 minutes until bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving, as it will
thicken when it cools.
Homemade Cream Sauce
This recipe makes a little more than you need. The extra sauce can be used as a base for a quick cream soup on another day when you are short on time.
Makes 2 cups
½ stick butter or margarine
½ cup white all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream, milk or half-and-half
Pinch of ground nutmeg
½ tsp Cajun seasoning
Salt and white pepper to taste
Melt butter or margarine in a medium skillet or saucepan and add flour.
Stir constantly for at least 5 minutes until flour is cooked out of the mixture(it will start to turn a slight brown color). Add cream or milk and stir; mixture will immediately thicken. Remove from heat and add seasonings. Use immediately or store in fridge until needed.
Arlene Coco of Duluth is a food blogger and owns Prairie Kitchen Specialty Foods. For more recipes and cooking tips visit her blog at