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It’s hard to imagine a casserole more deserving of its upper Midwest — and particularly Minnesotan — synonym of hotdish than Amy Thielen’s chicken and wild rice hotdish.

It’s got the meat; the starch is the most Minnesotan wild rice; it’s got a homemade cream sauce; and it’s topped with Ritz crackers.

Plus, it’s similar to one of my favorite soups — wild rice, of course — that I’ve adapted from a fancy-pants grocery store Lunds & Byerlys based in, you guessed it, Minnesota.

Everything about it screams upper Midwest in winter.

And that’s why as the temperatures dipped into negative numbers this weekend, I decided it would be the perfect time to make this particular casserole.

I’m not going to lie, though, this recipe takes a bit of work. Wild rice takes forever to get tender. You need to cook some chicken (unless you buy a rotisserie pre-made). And then you make your own vegetable cream sauce, all before pouring the mixture into a casserole dish.

On the other hand, on a freezing Sunday, when you don’t want to leave the house, what keeps you warmer than standing by a preheated oven while you work on the stove top? So, I’m not complaining.

Especially not after my sweetie and I took our first too-hot bites of the hotdish. It was incredible and worth every minute of the wait.

Here’s what I did, sticking pretty tight to Thielen’s original recipe:

Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish

  • ½ cup wild rice, uncooked
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 6 tablespoons butter, plus more for coating casserole dish
  • 2 leeks, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cup whole milk
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium store-bought
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
  • 4 ounces Gouda or smoked cheddar cheese (I actually did 2 oz. of each.)
  • 2 cups buttery crackers, like Ritz, coarsely ground, about two sleeves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Clean rice in a fine-mesh sieve, and rinse thoroughly. Place rice in a saucepan, add 1 ¼ cups water, a pinch of salt and the bay leaf; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cover. Steam for 25 to 30 minutes until rice is tender. (If water remains, drain it when rice is done.)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish.

While rice cooks, melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet with high sides. Saute leeks and celery for about 10 minutes until softened.

Slowly add flour to combine with the butter and coat vegetables. Add milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add cream, chicken stock, thyme, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add chicken, wild rice and half the cheese, stirring until cheese melts.Crush crackers; add olive oil and a little bit of pepper.

Pour chicken mixture into prepared casserole dish, and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove casserole from the oven; spread crackers evenly over the hotdish. Bake for another 25 minutes until crackers turn dark brown and the hotdish bubbles in the center. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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