This recipe has a steady spot on the dinner rotation and for good reason. It’s easy to prepare, contains no unusual ingredients and even though chicken tetrazzini might have a gut-buster reputation, can be altered to the lighter side.
What/who is Tetrazzini?
There’s even an associated local tale you can share at the dinner table if/when asked.
Chicken Tetrazzini was named after larger-than-life Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini who succeeded in achieving her wish to some day perform in San Francisco. She once said “I will sing in San Francisco if I have to sing there in the streets, for I know the streets of San Francisco are free.” And “I never thought I would be a street singer, but I want to do this for San Francisco … because I like San Francisco better than any other city in the world. San Francisco is my country.”
In 1910 on Christmas Eve, she gave her famous outdoor performance at the corner of Market and Kearney where an estimated quarter of a million people watched, her crystal clear voice reverberating through the otherwise silent streets. For a city feeling raw four years after the great earthquake, this was the making of a local legend. For more to the story, click here or here.
As far as the dish goes, it’s unclear exactly which chef she inspired to name it in her honor. James Beard believed it was created in San Francisco and the recipe below is adapted from one of his original cookbooks Beard on Pasta. Considered the “Father of American-Style Gourmet Cooking“, Beard continues to hold a place in the American food scene with his foundation and food industry awards.
For sourcing new recipes and gleaning inspiration, it’s worth checking out the nominees and winners of the James Beard Cookbook Awards, from baking and beverages to modernist and vegetarian.
This Tetrazzini was my Mom’s go-to recipe for Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing leftovers and is a great one to keep handy for the upcoming holiday.
I’ve made a few changes over the years including reducing the amount of pasta relative to the sauce. Saucy is ok but pasta-y dries the texture and blands the flavor. I’ve also deleted the raw peppers but sometimes add sautéed onions and mushrooms. And replaced the heavy cream with milk. The post-Thanksgiving version is topped with crumbled leftover stuffing. Or you can use dried stuffing mix.
Regardless, it’s one of those basic recipes that turns out a bit differently every time. But never does it disappoint. Juicy chicken with a light sherry cream sauce, it’s simple goodness and comfort at its best. A meal with story.
Below are images of what your sauce will look like as it progresses to creamy:
Melt the butter and add the flour.
Whisk and simmer for about two minutes until pale and frothy.
Sauce should thicken but not become too thick.
Add sherry, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper (or your preferred herbs/spices)
Classic Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini
- Chicken (or Turkey), shredded or diced, about 3 cups (Simplest Two Ingredient Baked, purchased rotisserie or leftover)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock
- 1 cup milk (regular or low-fat)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup sherry
- 1/3 pound spaghetti or 2 cups quinoa
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, crumbled leftover Thanksgiving stuffing or packaged dried
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Remove the meat from the chicken and set it aside.
- Boil water for the pasta or prepare quinoa.
- For the cream sauce, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir in the flour and whisk for about two minutes until pale, bubbly and frothy.
- Add the chicken broth/stock and the milk. If it begins to boil, turn down the heat. Continue to stir occasionally. After 5-6 minutes, the sauce will begin to bubble. Continue to stir for two or so more minutes, lightly simmering, until it thickens.
- Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and sherry. Optional: add other herbs or salts for desired flavor.
- Stir the chicken into the sauce and remove from heat.
- Place the drained, cooked spaghetti or quinoa into a 9×13 baking dish. Spoon the chicken and sauce over, making sure the pasta or quinoa are covered. Optional: Sprinkle bread crumbs or stuffing and Parmesan cheese over the top.
- Place in a 475° oven for a ten minutes until bubbling.