A recurring theme in my older cookbooks is the role of ground beef as the “baseline” protein; a blank slate ingredient on which the rest of the dish is constructed. I’ve waded through hundreds of casseroles that are some variant of ground beef and onion smothered in cream of chicken soup, and another hundred versions of meatballs drenched in cream sauce or barbecue sauce. Ground beef isn’t the star of the show, like it would be in a meatloaf or a hamburger. It’s meant to soak up the flavors of whatever’s around it. In the twenty-first century the boneless, skinless chicken breast has assumed this role. From a culinary perspective it makes a lot more sense: chicken breast tastes like nothing, has very little fat, but still provides nutritive protein and a satisfying meaty texture.
So it’s funny to come across a dish where ground beef is meant to masquerade as chicken, such as Hollywood Chicken from the 1960s cookbook “The Best in Cooking” in Round Head (Ohio). The first ingredient is a pound of ground beef. The beef is browned with some onion and then added to a white sauce and mixed with a can of undiluted condensed chicken noodle soup. The soup adds a little bit of chicken, I guess, but it’s a vanishingly small amount. If I’m doing my math right with the nutrition facts, it can’t be much more than half an ounce. This glorious concoction is poured over a bed of crushed potato chips and cooked until everything is thick and bubbly.
And if you can’t tell from the description it’s not good, and I wouldn’t recommend you make it unless it brings back some sentimental memories of a simpler time or whatever. It tastes fine, and frankly not a whole lot different than the myriad ground beef and chicken noodle soups out there. But the texture is plain wrong. Canned noodles are soggy enough to begin with, and the potato chips soak up enough moisture to make this a mushy, inedible mess.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Brown ground beef and onion together in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir to absorb beef fat.
- Slowly stir in milk and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Stir in chicken noodle soup and let simmer for a minute or two.
- Lightly grease a baking dish and spread crushed potato chips in the bottom. Pour the beef mixture over the top, and then top with more crushed potato chips. Bake one hour.