What Is A Casserole?

Everyone likes a good casserole, and it’s a holiday tradition across the world. After all, it can feed a whole family very easily! But wait, just what is a casserole anyway? What exactly defines a casserole?

A casserole is a one-pot dish baked in the oven using a casserole pan. It can be made up of nearly anything, as ‘casserole’ simply refers to a means of preparing food rather than a specific recipe.

We’re splitting up our definition into two halves, the historical one and the modern one. That’s because the use of the word has actually changed a fair bit. At one point, this was a term used very broadly.

What Does Casserole Mean Historically?

You see, “casserole” is the French word for a saucepan. And the word was also then used for any dish that was prepared within that kind of pan. As such, it could’ve been anything in there.

The words roots go back even further in French history, coming from the French word “cassa” and also the Latin “cattia”. Both of these are just words for ladle. 

Effectively the term was used for a communal pot, one that a large group could use to share meals. 

This is nice and perhaps even still somewhat accurate today. Casseroles are certainly made for families more so than individuals, after all. So the spirit of that definition is still around. 

But it’s not very specific, is it? It tells you nothing about what kind of food it is, since back in the day, it wasn’t the name of a specific dish. Nowadays, that’s changed.

What Defines A Modern Casserole?

The word now is still more of a category of food, but it’s only used for specific cases.To give you something a little more detailed to bite into, a casserole is essentially a one-dish meal, always something baked in the oven.

It can contain a varying selection of ingredients, and that selection is vast. They’re all cooked simultaneously though, which makes casseroles notably simple to make. 

As casseroles are generally made for family occasions, they have naturally become holiday traditions in many households.

What Are The Most Common Ingredients For A Casserole?

As a general rule of thumb, a casserole will probably contain a heaping helping of protein, coming in the form of beef, beans, fish or chicken. 

It’s also usually mixed with vegetables and some kind of starch to bind everything together. That includes pasta, rice, flour or potatoes. This helps keep it nice and moist, and easy to cut into.

To keep the dish from drying out, cooks will very often add in liquids, something like milk, wine, stock or just water. This is a good practice to keep it moist as it cooks uncovered in the oven.

The definition is still a bit vague, as there’s plenty of leeway in what result you can get. But think of as a casserole more as a means of preparing something.

What Are The Most Popular Casserole Dishes?

Green bean casserole is a long running favorite, one that many might not know originates with the Campbell’s Soup Company. 

According to a survey commissioned by Campbell in 2000, 44% of people called green bean casserole their favorite veggie side dish. 

It’s referred to as the ultimate comfort food, and Good Housekeeping once said that few dishes are as iconic as the green bean casserole.

Potato casserole is also very common, and of course potatoes can be made to taste like anything. So a potato casserole could be made all sorts of ways, frequently taking a turn for the cheesy.

Tuna casserole is popular as well, and might be the most common meat added in. They’re most frequently topped with corn flakes, bread crumbs, potato chips or canned fried onions.

Can You Freeze A Casserole?

This is a tough question to answer, because as we’ve covered, casseroles can be just about anything. Some ingredients in a casserole will do better in a freezer than others.

Whether or not you’ll want to freeze your casserole depends on what exactly you make. Some casseroles are perfect for prepping ahead of time and freezing. 

Ultimately you’ll want to look up the specific ingredients, or read the recipe instructions to see if you have a freezer-friendly casserole on your hands. 

As an aside, if you’re taking this route, maybe take time to wrap them in disposable aluminum foil trays. That means less extra casserole dishes you have to stash in the freezer.

How To Reheat A Casserole Without Drying It Out

Of course after freezing the casserole, you’ll want to let it thaw. First, let it sit in the fridge for a while before sitting it on the counter for about 20-30 minutes. That’ll get it to about room temperature.

But then what? How do you reheat something like this without ruining it? And that’s a challenge for sure. Doing this the wrong way could definitely lead to it becoming a dry mess, and nobody wants a dry casserole!

You’ll want to use the oven to reheat the casserole, and cook it very slowly. Covering it up while it reheats will also help it retain moisture.

Is A Casserole Similar To A Stew?

In preparation, casserole might have some things in common with stew. And certainly they share a lot of common ingredients. 

But ultimately, no, casseroles aren’t something you would confuse for a stew.

Stews are basically a very thick soup with all sorts of potential ingredients floating in the juicy liquid of your choice. You’d need a spoon to consume an entire stew.

Casseroles, meanwhile, might be moist and loosely put together, but is very firm in comparison to a stew. They’re still a solid, meaning you can eat an entire casserole with a fork. 

Plus they’re cooked very differently. Casseroles are heated from all sides while being cooked in the oven. Meanwhile stews are traditionally cooked on a stovetop over a hot burner.

Is Lasagna A Casserole?

This might sound like a really silly question to some, but remember: casserole refers to a category of food, more than something specific.

By definition, it refers to a one-pot oven-baked dish made in a casserole pot. And wouldn’t you know it, that is often how lasagna is made!

So, yes, funny as it might seem to say, lasagna does classify as a casserole. You’ll likely get some bemused responses if you start calling it that though. 

Nobody really considers lasagna to be a casserole in practice, but just going by definition, it does qualify.

Is A Casserole The Same As A Hot Dish?

Minnesota loves their hot dishes, and you’ll hardly ever hear someone say the word ‘casserole’ there. 

Instead they’ll call anything similar to a casserole a “hot dish”, but does that mean they’re the same?

In a way they are, in the sense that a hot dish definitely qualifies as a casserole, much like lasagna.

A hot dish is baked in a casserole pan, but with a specific recipe of cream or tomato-based soup, some kind of protein, veggies and a crispy crumbly topping.

For casseroles, a lot of the above is optional. So, every hot dish is a casserole, but not every casserole is a hot dish.

In Conclusion…

And so, it turns out a casserole can be a whole bunch of things. Traditional casseroles include green bean casseroles, potato casseroles and tuna fish casseroles. But really, the only limit is your imagination as far as what you’d like to try.

Any one-pot baked dish made using the casserole pot or a sauce pot could be called a casserole. Even things like lasagna are technically casseroles, though you wouldn’t dare say such a thing out loud!

Casseroles are simple to make and make for a great family meal, no matter who you are.