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Culinary Spotlight: The 7th Food Group Of The Midwest

Chef Joe Brunner explores the art of the hotdish and offers a delicious recipe

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Photos By Hillary Ehlen

During the never-ending winter months in the upper Midwest, there isn’t anything that can bring us the happiness and comfort that we need other than a hotdish.

Imagine it being the 1930s during The Great Depression, all you have at home is canned vegetables, canned soup, potatoes and limited meat. Might as well throw it all together in a pan, bake it and see what happens. That was the creation of the hotdish. An easy, affordable and sufficient way to feed the whole family for a couple of days. Little did the people who first started making the hotdish know that that dish would become a regional staple of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

What really is a hotdish? There could be many adaptations to what people think goes into a hotdish, but it really comes down to three things. A starch, protein and a vegetable bound together with a creamed soup. Then those ingredients are seasoned and tossed into a serving dish, and almost always topped with a potato product and baked uncovered. There’s nothing pretty going on with hotdish, but if you’re like most Midwesterners, you can find some beauty in that beige and brown pan bubbling in the oven.

With the lengthy history and crazy popularity of the hotdish, there have been so many different variations. Whether it’s the famous tater-tot, wild rice or taco hotdish, there’s a never-ending list of recipes. Along with all those recipes, there is some confusion. Is a hotdish the same as a casserole? To me, a hotdish is a casserole. There are arguments that a hotdish uses heavier meats like beef and pork, while casseroles use chicken or tuna. Or that casseroles only use stocks and broths instead the creamy canned soup that the hotdishes use. When it comes down to it, they both call for a smörgåsbord of ingredients to be placed into a pan and baked until golden brown.

With hotdish being such an integral part of my childhood, it will always be close to my heart. So I will continue to pass it on to more generations so more people can have the same nostalgic feeling while eating something so simple.

Hotdish

Yield 1 pan

Hotdish Ingredients

  • ½ cup wild rice
  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • ½ cup of dried mushroom (porcini, shiitake)
  • ½ lbs andouille sausage, diced
  • 4oz thick cut bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 pint of chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 confit duck legs, shredded
  • Splash of apple cider vinegar

Crispy Onion Topping Ingredients

  • 1 Onion, julienned
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup seasoned flour (salt & pepper)
  • 2 cups vegetable oil

Preparation

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Before cooking, start to infuse heavy cream with the dried mushrooms- 30 minutes before cooking.
  • In a sauce pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add in wild rice. Cook for 20 minutes and then cool.
  • In heavy-bottomed saucepan, render bacon and andouille. Once rendered, add onion, carrot, celery, thyme and garlic and cook until onions are translucent.
  • Add in cooled wild rice, chicken broth, strained heavy cream, salt and pepper
  • Simmer on the stovetop for 30 minutes or until the liquid had thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Fold in shredded duck, and then add into the casserole dish.
  • Place the dish in the oven for 1 hour.
  • Heat the 2 cups of oil in a saucepot on medium-high heat
  • While hotdish is in the oven, in a medium sized bowl add the onions and buttermilk together. Marinate for 5 minutes.
  • Strain off the buttermilk and squeeze onions to get rid of leftover milk. In another bowl, toss the onions in the flour to fully coat.
  • Add onions to the oil and fry for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown, season with salt and pepper
  • After the hotdish is done baking, sprinkle onions on top and serve.
Joe Brunner

Written by Joe Brunner

South Fargo native Joe Brunner is the co-owner and executive chef at Fargo dining staple Mezzaluna.

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