WND – Turkey Tetrazzini

January 10, 2008

I like reading cookbooks, particularly old cookbooks. Not because I’m particularly interested in making the recipes – I can flatly guarantee that there is no circumstance in which I am going to want to make anything in aspic – but because they’re little slices of social history.

The American Frugal Housewife from 1833 warns her readers that, “Economical people will seldom use preserves, except for sickness. They are unhealthy, expensive and useless to those who are well.” The Charlotte Cookbook from 1969 gives menu suggestions for everything from a Bridge Luncheon to a Debutante Supper Party which include such recipes as Florida Garden Salad with Whipped Cream Dressing, and Sherry Pie. Even the Joy of Cooking, which I tend to think of as a relentlessly practical source of information, is full of weird little pieces of advice if you actually sit down and read the chapter introductions.

I like them partly because they’re just bizarre – who knew you could do that many things with jello, or that you might want to – and partly because I was a history major. Women’s history isn’t written in treaties or filed in national archives, it’s found in cookbooks and letters and guides on how to be a good housewife. Old cookbooks are a walk through how much life has changed even in just the last 50 years. Now we have shows on the Food Network about how to combine two working parents and kids with multiple after school activities with a home cooked meal every night. 40 years ago cookbooks were explaining the subtle differences between hors d’oeuvres and appetizers and how to plan an economical luncheon menu (use leftovers from your dinner the night before).

My mother gave me the new edition of the Joy of Cooking when I graduated from college, and then immediately turned around and found me a copy of the 1964 edition I grew up using. In theory I understand why they updated The Joy of Cooking. They wanted it to be more relevant to today’s cook. But honestly? I don’t really like it. I think The Joy of Cooking lost a lot of its charm and usefulness when it got updated, and I’m not just saying that because they changed the biscuit recipe.

The Joy of Cooking is my basic reference manual. It’s the first place I look if I want to know how long to cook a chicken, or how to make scalloped potatoes. The new edition got updated for the modern cook and somehow missed the mark on being a classic and ended up trying to be trendy instead.

Although having just said that The Joy of Cooking is a trusted source, their recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini is strangely out of proportion. The recipe says it serves 8-10, but only calls for 2 cups of chicken and ½ lb of pasta. Possibly this served 8-10 people who’d also had appetizers and a starter and were going to have dessert afterwards, although even then I’m dubious, but it definitely won’t serve 8-10 people at Dinner.

Turkey Tetrazzini
Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini

(serves 8-10)

If you have leftover turkey by all means use it. If you don’t, roast 2lb of chicken breasts (about 4 large breasts) in the oven until they’re done (to an internal temperature of 180, or about 20-25 minutes). I season mine with salt/pepper/thyme/olive oil, but you don’t need to. You can also poach them in a saucepan on the stove.

You’re looking for about 4 cups of chicken.

Saute 1.5-2 lb of mushrooms in a little butter.

White Sauce
6 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream *
6 Tbsp dry white wine or sherry
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter and then whisk in the flour. Allow to cook for a minute to lose the raw flavor. Add the chicken stock and cook over a low heat to thicken. Add the cream and wine and allow to thicken again.

This will not thicken like a white sauce made with milk. It will never get as thick as a cheese sauce, and it will take a lot longer to get to the point where it coats the back of a spoon, but if you give it time it will. On the upside, it’s also much harder to burn, even when you turn away to put something in the sink and come back to find it boiling over on the stove. Not that this has ever happened to me.

* You can use less heavy cream, I’ve done it with as little as ¼ cup, although unsurprisingly it’s much better with more rather than less cream. You do, however, need to use heavy cream as opposed to light cream because heavy cream won’t curdle when it cooks.

Cook 1.5 lb noodles

Mix half the sauce with the noodles and mushrooms and pour into a casserole.
Mix the other half of the sauce with the sliced chicken and nestle into the middle of the noodles.
Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan cheese.
Bake in a 375 oven for 35-40 minutes until casserole is warm through, and the top is crispy, about 40 minutes.

Let it cool 5-10 minutes before you serve it.

Notes: I roasted the chicken breasts, sautéed the mushrooms and made the white sauce on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday night I reheated half the sauce with the sliced chicken (it helps to heat the chicken in the sauce or it takes forever to come up to temperature in the oven) while the noodles cooked.



  1. This is one of those things that tastes better than it looks, and I mean that in the best possible way. 🙂

  2. […] Recipe previously given: Turkey Tetrazzini […]

  3. I’ve been serving this to my family for years. It is one of their favorite dinners.

  4. So glad you posted this recipe. My old Joy of Cooking fell apart and this was one of my favorite recipes in it. Thanks for making it available! 🙂

  5. […] before you throw the bones into a soup pot and boil them up for stock.  You can, obviously, make Turkey Tetrazzini with them and I highly encourage you to do so.  But, if you had Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday […]

  6. Thanks for your post! I bought my Joy of Cooking in the early 1970’s. I knew Mom had used it and it was a good reference while away at college. Family loves the tetrazzini. Here’s some fun trivia: there are recipes for squirrel, bear, raccoon, woodchuck and possum/opossum! Not to worry, they explain how to skin and clean before cooking. Whether at college in Arizona or homes in California, I’ve never been tempted to try these. Perhaps someone else will-and post about it.

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