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What is a Casserole Exactly? Defining This Confusing Term

March 31, 2021 3 min read

What is a Casserole

A casserole is one food term that causes much confusion - is it a stew? A baked dish? We're clearing up to clearly define casserole and everything it does and does not include. 

What defines a casserole?

Initially, the casserole definition referred to anything cooked in a "casserole," the French word for a saucepan. Chefs used this broad, deep dish to cook and bake foods to perfection in the oven - the dish then doubles as the serving plate. 

Let's rewind for a little bit of casserole history - the French word casserole dates back even further than the classic dish to the French "cassa," and the Latin "cattia," both meaning ladle. It looks like the casserole origin pointed more to a communal pot that people used to share their meals. 

Thanks to Tupperware, casserole blew up in America during the 50s and 60s. While it slowed a little since then, they're recently experiencing a revival, as convenient one-pot meals are needed more than ever in our sometimes insanity-filled households. 

What makes a casserole a casserole?

The definition of a casserole leaves a lot to be desired, as you could potentially cook almost anything in a classic casserole dish.

What makes something a casserole?

Let's take it a step further - when people use the term casserole today, they're referring to a one-dish meal that's baked in the oven. 

It can contain a massively wide variety of ingredients that all get cooked at once, making the meal uniquely easy to make (sign us up). 

Generally, most casseroles contain a protein of beef, chicken, fish, or beans, plus a mix of vegetables and some starch - usually, you'll find pasta, potatoes, rice, or flour to bind the dish together, making it moist and sliceable. 

Cooks often add liquids like water, stock, wine, or milk to prevent the dish from drying out as it cooks uncovered in the oven. 

So, a casserole is still a little vague, but you can consider every dish that follows these guidelines to be different types of casseroles, technically. 

Casseroles can range from ridiculously simple to intricate and complex depending on the ingredients you choose and any preparations required before assembling the casserole. Because the ingredients vary greatly, some casseroles may be pretty healthy, while others become fat and calorie bombs with a few high-fat ingredients. 

Can you freeze a casserole?

Some casseroles can be prepped ahead of time and frozen, making them the food of choice to offer relatives and friends in need of some help, or teenage kids that can't manage to scrape their own dinner together (no judgment, I was precisely this teenager at one point!). 

Certain ingredients don't keep as well in the freezer, so read your recipe's instructions to see if it's a freezer-friendly meal. You may also want to consider making frozen casseroles in disposable aluminum foil trays unless you have several extra casserole dishes you don't mind stashing in the freezer for a while. 

What is the difference between a casserole and a stew?

The differences between a casserole and a stew are tiny, but a casserole tends to be a little firmer than a stew, a thick soup. 

Casseroles bake inside the oven, getting heated from all sides, while a stew cooks on the stovetop over a hot burner.

Is a hot dish a casserole?

In Minnesota, you'll rarely hear someone utter the word casserole - instead, Minnesotans call anything remotely casserole-like a "hot dish." But in the debate between hot dish vs. casserole, the word isn't exactly interchangeable. 

While a casserole can contain almost any ingredient imaginable, a hot dish must contain a cream-based soup or tomato base, a protein, vegetables, and always a crispy crumbled topping. 

Is lasagna a casserole?

What's better, casserole vs. lasagna? It turns out they're the same thing. 

Lasagna is a pasta dish, but is it also a casserole? Yep, a lasagna is a one-pot dish baked in a casserole pot in the oven. 

Though if you start calling them "lasagna casseroles," we can't promise you won't get some strange looks from your friends and family around the dinner table.

Final Notes: How to Make Casseroles - 5 Simple Recipes

There's a reason why casseroles caught fire in America (not literally) and have recently become popular again. They offer effortless casserole meals that you can quickly prep ahead of time, making the perfect dinner solution for our busier than ever weeknights.

Try one of our favorite recipes below!

  1. Hamburger Casserole
  2. Cheesy Green Bean Casserole
  3. Chicken & Veggie Casserole
  4. Enchilada Casserole
  5. Tuna Noodle Casserole

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