Chicken spaghetti is a comforting casserole that satisfies cravings for chicken, pasta, home cooking, and browned-and-bubbling cheese. It’s the type of recipe that held its position near the front of many a family recipe box, passed along on handwritten recipes cards from one good cook to another in the days before online searches.
Chicken Spaghetti reigned mostly in Mississippi until legendary food writer Craig Claiborne included a recipe he called My Mother’s Chicken Spaghetti in Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking, released in 1987. Despite his world travels and tenure as a food writer for the New York Times, Claiborne was always a Southerner at heart and proclaimed proudly that it was the most personal of his twenty cookbooks.
Chicken Spaghetti likely appeared many times on Mrs. Claiborne’s table in her boardinghouse in Indianola. He noted that she served this dish in soup bowls "with grated Parmesan cheese and two curious, but oddly complimentary side dishes--sliced garlic pickles and potato chips."
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Mrs. Claiborne’s recipe is an oldie-goldie standard, but it hails from the era of long-form scratch cooking when few things were easy or quick. The first step of many was cooking a whole chicken and making broth to use in the homemade cream sauce that bound the ground beef, ground pork, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and so forth.
Time-strapped cooks have since tweaked the recipe to streamline where they can. Some ventured so far from the original that they shot past the point of recognition, but the best iterations take advantage of a few short cuts while preserving the essence. An acceptable dish of chicken spaghetti should be creamy and chock full of good stuff, blanketed under a boatload of cheese that turns stretchy when baked – hitting the bull’s eye on what we seek in a baked pasta dish and casserole. Chicken Spaghetti is a well-loved keeper.