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~The Retro History of All-American Chicken Tetrazzini~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def1d200cExperience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have sadly, been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).  Tetrazzini, which is prepared in separate stages on the stovetop then finish-baked in the oven, is one such vintage recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49dec54200cTetrazzini is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.

A bit about Tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded pasta (usually angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry (usually all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.  Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming.

All food historians agree that even though the dish contains pasta it is not Italian.  It is an all-American concoction.

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where it is said she was either a regular guest or a long-time resident of the hotel.  I can find no specific documentation to say the dish prepared for her was made with poultry, as seafood, which is common to San Francisco, would make more sense.  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa then gave the recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made famous a chicken-based version. To muddle the dish's history up a bit, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine made references to Tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street claims the rights to the recipe as well.

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d33c1200cUnfortunately, Tetrazzini took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, as we Americans love our casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tetrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the silky sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  they were the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but angel hair or spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not Tetrazzini.  Got it? Good.

Get tangled up in my version of Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def8e200c"We are all in this food world together" ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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