The Most Important Rules for Making a Casserole
You've already mastered the most important rules for making a delicious batch of vegetable soup, so now you're ready for a new challenge. How about getting a lay of the casserole land? And just in case you've been living in a casserole-deprived universe, here's a quick overview of dishes like the Broccoli-Cheddar Hash-Brown Casserole pictured above: "A casserole is a dish that is baked and served in the same baking dish. It typically contains a protein component, vegetables, some type of sauce, and a starch," says Vered DeLeeuw, founder, Healthy Recipes Blog, noting that a low-carb casserole may omit or reduce starches (nutrient-dense starches like sweet potatoes and butternut squash are a-ok in our books!). "This dish is often topped with shredded cheese and/or breadcrumbs, then baked uncovered until browned and bubbly."
DeLeeuw especially loves casseroles because they are an excellent vessel to use up whatever ingredients you might have in your kitchen. "They are incredibly versatile. They're typically large enough to feed a crowd, and the leftovers keep well and can be frozen for later use. And they are hot and comforting, making them ideal for winter," she says. Below, six rules to follow from the moment you grab your favorite baking dish to cook up a casserole.
Use the Right Bakeware
Speaking of that favorite item of bakeware, use the proper dish when making casseroles. "The first essential rule is choosing the right size dish to start," says Casey LaClair of Viraflare.com. Many people assume they can grab a 9 x 13-inch pan and go she says. "However, a casserole should be filled around three quarters of its height of the dish to avoid over/under cooking. Using the right-sized pan with the correct amount of ingredients ensures that it's three quarters-filled and will be cooked properly."
Par Cook Pasta and Vegetables
Do this and thank us later. "Partially cooking these ingredients is the only way to make a casserole with a satisfying texture," says LaClair, stressing that you don't overcook them, as they will dry out quickly when cooked in the oven.
Don't Use Frozen Vegetables
Another rule when it comes to vegetables: Steer clear of frozen ones. "They have their place and are often a lifesaver in the kitchen, but not in a casserole, because they tend to release quite a bit of water which will make the casserole soggy," comments DeLeeuw.
Always Cook Meat Before Adding
DeLeeuw highlights that this is important because it makes sure the protein is fully cooked (especially key when you're making a chicken casserole). "[This] also prevents the meat from releasing liquids into the casserole as it cooks, which would result in a watery casserole. Just make sure not to overcook the meat—remember, it will continue cooking once inside the casserole."
Use Spices Liberally
"Casseroles are wonderful, but they can be a bit bland," cautions DeLeeuw. "So make liberal use of spices and herbs. You almost can't overdo it when it comes to a casserole, so err on the side of adding more rather than being conservative with your spices."
Let It Cool
Allow the casserole to cool on the counter for 15 minutes when it comes out of the oven. Doing this means "all the boiling juices have time to settle, and your casserole won't be served as a drippy soup," La Clair explains. DeLeeuw adds that you can store the casserole in its baking dish, covered, for up to four days. "Reheat it uncovered in a low oven (300 °F). Place the cold casserole in the oven as it heats so that you don't place a cold ceramic dish in a hot oven," she says. You can also freeze an entire casserole once it's prepped, then enjoy it at a later date. "Freeze the entire dish covered in a layer of cling wrap followed by a layer of foil," DeLeeuw says. "Defrost overnight, then remove the wraps and place it into the oven as it heats up." Another good tip from the pro? Freeze individual servings and reheat as many as you need in the microwave directly from frozen.