Chef's Hat: The hot dish versus casserole controversy

No matter what you call it, these dishes are an ideal way to use leftovers to create great winter meals

Chefs Hat Shepherd's Pie.jpg
Photo illustration /
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A classic hot dish in Minnesota is a very common recipe often served at family gatherings.

Despite its popularity in Minnesota, this dish is not common throughout the country. In other parts of the country, these so-called hot dishes are called casseroles.

So what’s the big difference? Some people feel the term “casserole” refers to the dish the meal is cooked in, while the hot dish is the meal itself.

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Others say casseroles can contain any ingredients that need to be used up — hamburger, potatoes, carrots or whatever is on hand — whereas hot dishes have certain ingredients that are necessary for it to truly be called a “hot dish."

Not a big surprise, but to be a true hot dish the recipe must have some type of “cream of something” soup or a tomato base, a protein, vegetable and some type of crispy topping — such as the commonly used tater tot.


No matter how you name it, a casserole or hot dish, these delightful recipes can be a main dish, breakfast starter, vegetable side dish or even a sweet dessert.

So where do you start when making a casserole? There’s no need to buy a bunch of fancy ingredients or items that will only be used for a one-time recipe.

Chicken, ground beef or ground pork, or leftover turkey are perfect for the base of a casserole. Add some frozen vegetables, such as peas, beans or corn, and the then top with mashed potatoes.

There you have it — a homemade casserole and a great dish to warm you up on a cold night.

Chicken Broccoli Hot Dish comes together quickly. The chicken can be replaced with leftover turkey and any type of green vegetable works. Green beans can be used instead of broccoli.

The Shepherd’s Pie recipe might not be official as I used hamburger instead of lamb. Hardcore Shepherd’s Pie enthusiasts say it is not a “real” Shepherd’s Pie unless you use lamb.

Again, it is a casserole where you can replace most of the ingredients with whatever you have on hand. Instead of making mashed potatoes, you can use instant potatoes, which makes the recipe come together very quickly and eliminates the several steps required to make mashed potatoes from scratch.

It doesn’t matter if you call these comfort foods hot dishes or casseroles. These dishes are an ideal way to use leftovers to create great winter meals.


The recipes can be complex, but by using leftovers these recipes can be incredibly simple to prepare. The real beauty of a casserole is the ease of combining the ingredients and then simply popping it into the oven.

It doesn’t get much easier than this! Happy Eating!

Chicken Broccoli Hot Dish

Photo illustration /

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces; about 2 cups total (you can substitute with chicken thighs or leftover turkey)
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen broccoli, slightly steamed; do not overcook (or 3 cups leftover vegetables, peas or beans)
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • ¾ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss or cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x11-inch (or similar sized) baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place the chicken and broccoli in a large bowl and lightly toss. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the soup, milk, lemon juice and thyme. Add the soup mix to the chicken and broccoli and stir until well combined. Pour this mixture into the greased baking dish.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of the mixture. Toss the breadcrumbs with the Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle this over the top of the cheese. Lightly spray the top with the cooking spray.

Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling.

Shepherd’s Pie

Chefs Hat Sherpherd's Pie.jpg
Make Shepherd's Pie using hamburger or lamb, vegetables and mashed potatoes.
Donna Evans / Echo Journal Correspondent

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground lamb)
2 teaspoons dried parsley leaves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon jarred garlic
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 cups frozen vegetables (peas, carrots, corn)


Potato topping

  • 3 cups mashed potatoes (use instant or make from scratch using 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes)
  • 6 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 1/3 cup milk (or use half and half for a richer topping)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese


  • 2 tablespoons parsley (fresh or dried)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika

To make the meat filling, place a large skillet on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Add the oil and cook for a minute, then add the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally so the onions cook evenly.

Add the ground beef (or ground lamb) to the skillet and break it apart with a spatula or spoon. Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, until the meat is browned, stirring occasionally. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the garlic; stir well. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir well. Add the flour and mix completely, making sure there are no clumps. Add the beef broth and the frozen vegetables and stir well. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare the instant potatoes per the package directions, or peel and cut potatoes into quarters and place them in a large pot of boiling water. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.

Place the potatoes in a medium sized bowl. If cooking the potatoes from scratch, drain the potatoes, place them in the bowl and mash the potatoes. Add the butter, milk (or half and half), garlic salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Mix until the potatoes and cheese are well combined.

To assemble the casserole, pour the meat mixture into a 9x9- or 7x11-inch baking dish. Spread the mixture in an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top of the meat. Carefully spread the potatoes so they are even across the meat filling. Sprinkle parsley and paprika on top of the potatoes.

Place the dish in the heated oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is browned. Remove the dish from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting it into pieces and serving.

Donna Evans is an Echo Journal correspondent.

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