Whether it's a soup or stew, salad, sandwich or even a sauce, there’s often a recipe within families handed down through the years that can be pointed to as a classic. Whenever whipped up, any trace will be consumed within the hour. Enjoyment of these special dishes comes not only from the delicious tastes they curate, but also because of the things we associate them with.
There’s a powerful connection between these recipes and our memory. This mysterious and poignant link is memorialized in Pixar’s iconic 2007 animated classic, “Ratatouille.” In tasting a dish at a restaurant that was also a staple dish prepared by his mother, the cold-hearted food critic Anton Ego is instantly transported back in time to days of the past.
But it’s not simply evocative of one's childhood—food opens doors back to relationships, gatherings, moods and time periods throughout life. Family recipes are imbued with an almost mystical quality of bubbling up fond remembrances of the past.
My family has a veritable ensemble of staples that have graced the cookbook and our table for many seasons. My dad has his Scandinavian, East Coast roots—a phenomenal pasta, meatballs and Swedish pancakes. From my mother’s side, a more Midwest tradition begets superb egg bake casserole and macaroni and cheese.
When surveying the landscape created by our family dishes, there’s one that stands out as having withstood the test of time and taste immemorial. “Chicken Ritz,” a simple hot dish menu item, has been prepared in my family consistently for nearly 20 years. Originally from my mother’s side, it’s a new entry into the generational recipe collection but became a fast favorite and it’s not difficult to see why.
“Chicken Ritz” consists of five inexpensive ingredients combined in a manner that is minimally messy and fussy. The result is a hearty, delicious meal that keeps well for a long while. While not overtly being a college student meal, it fits nicely within the budgets and tastes of those who are looking for an easy, solid meal on a time crunch.
The recipe calls for a few sizable chicken breasts, eight ounces of sour cream, two cans of cream of chicken soup, a sleeve of Ritz crackers and butter. While not the healthiest hot dish on the planet, butter and Ritz can be excluded, although you might receive a strongly worded letter from me if I find out.
The preparation is fantastically minimal. Bake or boil your chicken breasts until cooked through, cut into cubes and place in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Combine your sour cream and cream of chicken, pour the mixture on top, crush and top with Ritz and drizzle with melted butter—throw it in the oven and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
Once you’ve slogged through the arduous and extremely difficult experience that is preparing the hot dish, top with fresh cracked pepper and serve a heaping spoonful over rice with the vegetable of your choice on the side. Convenient, hearty and blessedly cheap, "Chicken Ritz" can be prepared in a large batch at the beginning of the week and reheated easily whenever needed.
In preparing a pan to share with the Bulletin, I completed my own little nostalgic journey back to cold school nights in the winter—finishing my homework and sitting down to the table back home to share a meal and a moment that was perhaps unremarkable at the time, but now has a special place in my heart and lives on within the meals and the people I’ll share them with, for the rest of my life.
4-5 Chicken Breasts
8 o.z. Sour Cream
2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers (crushed)
1 stick of butter (melted)
1. Boil or bake chicken breasts until cooked through--cut into cubes or strips
2. In a bowl mix together soup and sour cream
3. Spread cut up chicken breasts in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan
4. Pour soup and sour cream mixture into the pan
5. Sprinkle with Ritz crackers on top, covering well
6. Drizzle melted butter over melted crackers
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes
8. Serve with rice or egg noodles, and enjoy!