11 March 2017

Poulet à la Tetrazzini

I don't know why, but the name Tetrazzini just came to me the other day. What is chicken tetrazzini, exactly, I thought. So I looked it up. My motivation was that we had about half of an oven-roasted capon in the refrigerator, and we had already eaten some it twice with stuffing and vegetables. We needed a new idea.

A capon is just a fattened chicken — a rooster, actually. I had roasted it very simply, seasoned with just some salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves. It weighed 2,65 kilos, or nearly 6 lbs., so we would be eating it for a while.

I didn't find tetrazzini in any of my French cookbooks. Not even in the Larousse Gastronomique, which is pretty comprehensive. I did find recipes in French on the internet (on y trouve tout... et n'importe quoi) and of course a lot of recipes in English too.

On Wikipedia, I read that the idea or recipe for chicken tetrazzini has been attributed an Italian coloratura soprano named Luisa Tetrazzini, who was a star in the early 1900s. The dish appears to have originated back then in the kitchens of the Sheraton Palace hotel in San Francisco. Or maybe at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Nobody quite remembers.

Wherever it was first concocted, it was a way to use up the leftovers from a holiday roasted turkey or chicken. It's a cream sauce with onions, mushrooms, smoked pork bacon or lardons, and chunks of cooked chicken in it. It's flavored with a little sherry or white wine, and served over pasta. Or baked into a casserole, topped with melted cheese. Some green garden peas are an optional addition. Walt and I both enjoyed eating it. Here's a recipe translated and adapted from a French web page.

Poulet Tetrazzini

8 to 10 oz. pasta (bow ties, penne, macaroni, linguine...)
4 Tbsp. butter
lardons fumés, diced ham, or bacon (optional)
1 onion, chopped
½ lb. button mushrooms
3 fl. oz. flour (40 g)
500 ml. chicken broth
150 ml. cream
2 Tbsp. sherry or other dry white wine
1 lb. of boneless cooked chicken
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped or dried herbs
1 pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan or other cheese
½ cup bread crumbs

Cook the pasta in boiling water or chicken broth according to package directions, keeping it fairly al dente. (We had whole wheat bow-tie or farfalle pasta.) Drain and set aside. If you're cooking the pasta in chicken broth, save it to use as the base for the cream sauce.

Separately, sauté the chopped onion with the (optional) bacon, ham, or lardons. (I used diced, cooked sausage stuffing.) Slice the mushrooms and add them to the sauteed onion. Add the flour to the pot and let it cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth to make a thickened gravy. Add the cream, the wine, and the cooked pasta to the gravy and stir well. Then add the chicken, any herbs you like, the nutmeg, and the salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish. Mix the grated cheese and bread crumbs together to make a topping for the gratin. (Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter if you want.)

Cook in a 350ºF / 180ºC oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling hot. Serve the tetrazzini at the table right out of the casserole dish. Sprinkle on more grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs as you want.

Here's another recipe published by Elise on her Simply Recipes site, which is always a good source.


  1. In the days between the arrival of sound recording and the development of the film industry, opera singers were the A-list celebrities of their day, and associating some dish or product with them was just as endorsements are today, though I don't suppose the notion of "image rights" was as legally entrenched in those days. To stick with the theme, another time you might try Poularde Adelina Patti, pasta with a Caruso sauce, Eggs Bizet, Beef Meyerbeer or Selle d'Agneau Paganini, and to round off the meal there's always Pêche Melba, or Poires Mary Garden.....!

  2. Look at this list. And even it doesn't include Tournedos Rossini, for example.

    1. I read through this list quickly, but it doesn't seem to include either: veal Orloff (comte Orlov); beef Stroganof; rice à l'impératrice (impératrice Eugénie de Montijo); prâlines (duc du Plessis-Praslin); tarte Tatin (sœurs Tatin); bouchées à la reine (Marie Leczcinska (1703-1768)); onions Soubise (maréchal de Soubise), and probably man others...

      Your Tetrazini concoction sounds like a version of veau Orloff!

    2. Isn't veal (prince) Orloff more of a roast than a casserole?

    3. The veau Orloff I know is the veal roast sliced and reassembled with a mixture of mushrooms (uxelles) and onions (soubise) placed between the slices and covered with a cheese sauce (béchamel, mornay). My first cousin was a great cook and it was one of her favorite dishes. Once, she served it to a number of guests with rice; and I was "fortunate" to find a small nail in the rice! I say fortunate, because if somebody else had found it, it would have been a disaster! I surrepticiously hid my find.

      If you look at this Wikipedia picture, the veal Orlov there looks very much like your dish.

  3. When I was growing up in the 1950s, chicken Tetrazzini could still be found on menus in San Francisco. It was essentially just a simply creams sauce with chicken and celery over noodles. I seem to remember the home version was baked like a tuna-noodle casserole whereas the restaurant version was more of a fresh sauce over noodles.

    1. What we ended up with was sort of like a pot pie filling but without carrots and with pasta added. It was good nonetheless. When I thought of tetrazzini I associated it, vaguely, with the 1950s and '60s.

  4. Right or wrong it looks delicious. :-) Cheers Diane


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