A casserole mix is a pre-blended spice mix that you can buy in stores. It expedites the process of making casseroles from scratch. But, what really is a casserole?
Initially, the word “casserole” is a French word that means “saucepan.” It is a cookware that is deep and large in size. But nowadays, the term can also refer to the food cooked and served in that vessel. The earliest description of casserole dates back to the 12th century. In 1886, a French Canadian immigrant cooked the first modern casserole in Berlin. It is called the green bean casserole. Spanish paella, British pot pies, Italian lasagna, and French cassoulets were soon crafted and became popular. Hence, the term commonly refers to a baked dish that includes ground or shredded meat, chopped vegetables, and a starch ingredient such as flour, pasta, or potatoes. The addition of cheese on top is also a common norm. Nevertheless, the texture and flavor profile of casseroles differ depending on each variety. Still, this comfort food can surely warm you up on a cold night.
Casserole Mix Trivia
- Casseroles are usually cooked in the oven, uncovered, over low heat.
- To craft an amazing casserole, all you need are five things: protein, vegetables, sauce, starch, and cheese.
- King Ranch Casserole is the most popular casserole in Texas.
Casserole Mix Buying Guide
From local artisans to large supermarkets like H-E-B and Natural Grocers, casserole mixes are indeed scattered everywhere in the state of Texas. Nevertheless, here are some helpful things when you opt to buy the store-bought ones:
- You can find casserole mixes in the frozen, seasoning, or spice aisle of the store.
- Know that there are plenty of flavors to choose from. Among the most popular ones include Texas Ranch Style Chicken, Idahoan Au Gratin, Chile Relleno, Tortilla & Black Beans, and Broccoli Rice.
- Check out the sodium content or better yet, opt for no-salt-added, reduced-sodium, or low-sodium, and just add salt as you normally flavor your dishes.
- If possible, go for the ones that contain organic ingredients.
- Be sure to always check out the ingredients list and pick the ones with lesser preservatives and hard to pronounce chemicals. Remember, mass-produced casserole mixes usually contain these bad stuff (see below).
- Pick the ones that are completely sealed to assure that the product hasn’t been contaminated. Cans or packages that leaks, rusts, bulges, or is severely dented should be discarded.
- As always, casserole mixes from local food vendors and artisans in farmers’ markets are better than the mass-produced ones. Here, you’ll get close to no preservatives and the ingredients are usually organic. Their products are also made in small batches and you might be able to get free samples along the way. And, don’t forget that our Texas Real Food website is home to all Texan vendors that would love to hear from you.
Casserole Mix Production & Farming in Texas
Traditionally, a casserole is made by pounding and pressing rice that is filled with a savory mixture of meats like chicken or sweetbreads. Casserole became popular in the United States as a stand-alone meal towards the 20th century, particularly in the 1950s when lightweight metal and glass cookware arrived on the market.
Nowadays, the production of a casserole dish in the state of Texas was a little bit modernized. Some casseroles are now made in baking trays and the sauces are pre-cooked on the stove prior to the assembly. Furthermore, casserole mixes makes the process easier. All you need to do is either microwave it or bake it in the oven. Nevertheless, casseroles remained to be a layered dish that is full of surprises.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Indeed, store-bought casserole mixes are more convenient than crafting one from scratch, especially if you need a quick dinner or a meal-to-go. However, it will never be our best choice as almost all of them contain additives and chemicals for lower cost yet fast-producing and shelf-stable products. Hence, here are some additives that we found on top brands:
- Dextrose and Maltodextrin – It is a type of sugar that acts as an artificial sweetener, food neutralizer, and a preservative. Too much consumption of this ingredient can lead to body fluid build-up and high blood sugar.
- Yeast extracts – These are added as a flavor enhancer and possess the same side effects just like MSG. You may want to avoid products with these ingredients especially if you have blood pressure problems or sodium-related concerns.
- Modified Food Starch – This additive is usually made with wheat, potato, corn, or tapioca. It acts as a binding agent, thickener, stabilizer, and preservative. This additive offers empty calories – they provide no nutritional value, yet it adds a considerable amount of carbohydrates which can promote weight gain. This ingredient should also be avoided by someone who is gluten intolerant.
- Silicon Dioxide – This chemical compound is also known as silica. It is used as a thickener, stabilizer, anticaking agent, and carrier for aroma and flavor. Although it is safe to consume, it can lead to lung problems when consumed past its RDA.
- Sunflower Lecithin – Made from the gum of dehydrated sunflower, this additive acts as a thickening agent, emulsifier, and a mild preservative. It is considered to be generally safe and beneficial to the human body; however, for some people, it causes them nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
- Color Additives – these are food colorings or dyes that are added to food products to improve its color. Some are natural and some are artificial. Examples of these are annatto extract (yellow), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange), grape skin extract (red and green), and dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown). Nonetheless, this additive can cause skin irritation, rashes, and eczema. Artificial ones can also upset one’s stomach and experience difficulty in breathing.
- Thickening Agents – Added in the right amount, these thickening agents improve the viscosity of any food without changing its taste. Some natural thickeners include corn starch, potato starch, yellow cornmeal, wheat flour, and other flours.
- Citric Acid – This additive is a natural preservative in foods. It is a weak and organic acid that is found on citrus fruits. Thus, citric acid adds that sour or acidic taste to the product. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it may cause muscle cramps, weight gain, stomach pain, and convulsions.
- Monoglyceride and diglycerides – These are made up of glycerol and fatty acid chain(s). They both act as emulsifiers, binding oil, and water. They are commonly found in frozen and packaged foods as they help in improving the texture and stability of the mixture while preventing it from separating and prolonging the product’s shelf life. Like fats, significant consumption of these additives can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease.
- Polysorbates – These are oily liquids that act as an emulsifier and a preservative. Consuming great amounts of this additive can lead to hypersensitivity, rash, and non-allergic anaphylaxis.
- Carrageenan – This additive is a natural thickener, emulsifier, and preservative that comes from red seaweeds. And although it is natural and classified as generally safe to consume, great amounts can promote bloatedness, IBS, inflammation, and even colon cancer.
- Calcium Chloride – This additive is an inorganic compound made with salt. It acts as a firming agent in food, especially in canned products. Also, it is commonly used as an electrolyte in sports beverages. Common side effects of this additive include vomiting, low blood pressure, stomach pain, and a burning mouth or throat.
- Xanthan Gum – This additive is a polysaccharide that acts as a thickener and stabilizer in foods. As an emulsifier, it keeps the ingredients from separating. Common side effects include bloatedness and flatulence when consumed past its RDA, which is 15g.
- Magnesium Chloride (Nigari) – This additive is a chemical compound that acts as a clotting agent. It came from the seawater and it is traditionally used in making tofu. It is called Nigari in Japan and Lushui in China.
- Powdered Cellulose – This additive is made up of cooked fiber, typically wood, to separate the cellulose which is then purified. It acts as an anti-caking agent, preventing the absorption of moisture in food products. Common side effects include drowsiness, mood swings, nausea, muscle spasms, and even seizures.
- Natamycin – Also known as pimaricin, it is an antifungal medication commonly used in eye products and medicines. When added to food, natamycin acts as a preservative and a mold inhibitor. Common side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
- Sodium Caseinate – Also known as casein, this additive is commonly found in animal milk and is often used in cheesemaking. Like Magnesium Chloride, it also acts as a clotting agent when added in food. Common side effects include skin reactions, nasal congestions, and swelling of the face area.
- Sodium Phosphate – This additive is commonly found in processed and fast foods. It acts as a thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer. Common side effects include headache, vomiting, bloatedness, abdominal pain, reduced urine, and even seizure.
- Dipotassium Phosphate – Abbreviated as DKP, this water-soluble salt acts as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and a texturizer. Common side effects include weakness, headache, nausea, joint pain, and diarrhea.
Casserole mixes usually come in cartons, cans, and glass jars.
Enjoying Casserole Mix
A casserole is a complete, stand-alone meal. But, if you’re going to host a party and casserole is your main dish, some vibrant and refreshing side dishes can also be prepared. Thus, roasted Brussel sprouts, green beans, steamed broccoli, and vegetable salad pairs perfectly on casseroles.
Casseroles should be kept in a sealable and air-tight container. Freshly-made casseroles will only last for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator. On another note, an unopened carton of casseroles should be kept in the freezer, where it could last for up to 6 months. Meanwhile, an unopened can of casseroles should be stored in a cool and dry area far from humid and hot zones like stoves, grills, and ovens to prolong their shelf life. Properly stored, they can generally maintain their quality and potency for about 12-18 months. As always, once the package is opened, transfer it into a non-reactive container and store it in the fridge, where it would last about 3-4 days.
Let’s get cooking!
If there would be a state casserole in Texas, it would be the King Ranch. It is a staple in school canteens, church suppers, frat houses, and even in funerals. And while the only difference between a freshly-made casserole and a store-bought casserole mix is the preservatives, let’s get cooking instead. Hence, without further ado, below is a recipe of this ultimate Texan favorite:
Yield: 12 servings
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 3 ea green chiles, roasted and diced
- 1 10-oz canned tomatoes
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 18 ea corn tortillas
- Chicken shreds from 1, roaster or poached, whole chicken
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Meanwhile, heat a large pan on a stove over medium heat. Add in the butter to melt and sauté the vegetables for 3-5 minutes.
- Add in the chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper, and cook for another minute.
- Sift the flour into the mixture, a little at a time while stirring until fully incorporated before the next batch.
- Slowly pour three cups of chicken stock using one hand, while the other whisks the mixture. Do the same for heavy cream.
- Add in the chiles and tomatoes, turn off the heat, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, grease a casserole or a baking dish with butter and pour the remaining ½ cup of chicken stock into the vessel.
- Layer 6 tortillas in the bottom of the vessel, trying your best to overlap them.
- Pour half of the sauce and add half of the chicken shreds. Sprinkle with a third of both cheeses.
- Assemble the second layer by doing the same method. Finish it with the remaining tortillas and cheeses.
- Bake it in the oven for about an hour or until the top cheese has bubbled up and lightly browned.
- Take it out of the oven and rest for 10 minutes before serving.