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Sep 28, 2013 05:53 PM

Daughter of Hot Dish: Let's Discuss!!

So. Midwestern cookery is what I was weaned on, and as such I have an inordinate love for that composed, oven baked wonder: The Hot Dish. However, I am not certain what, exactly defines "Hot Dish," and what, if anything, differentiates it from good ol' plain casserole. Any ideas? I mean, I have had them w/ bases of every kind of rice, every kind of potato, any type of meat, and some sort of sauce. Usually it involves a gratin topping of some sort (even if you stretch the definition to include the crushed French's fried onion). What say you? And what's your favorite, and why?

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  1. By this definition, wouldn't Shepherd's/cottage pie be a hot dish, with the browned mashed potatoes on top? IF so, that's my fave.

    I think you defined it perfectly as it's enjoyed by my MI/OH relatives. I think of it as the midwestern equivalent to New England chowders/"American Chop Suey"/baked beans--hearty and not-expensive, warming food....but in the case of the hot dish, really an everything-in-one dish. The only equivalents I really see around here are not true equivalents.....things like chicken/ziti/broccoli and veggie and meat lasagna.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pinehurst

      pinehurst, I'm thinking that you kind of nailed the crux, because the issue is about semantics, colloquialisms, and local custom. Because while the Shepard's pie you mention is one of my all-time favorite dishes, I don't consider it a hot dish per se, but the only reason I have for that is that it has a pretty specific name and geographic base, e.g. the U.K. and let's not even get started on hotpot and the like. (No, I do not mean the Mongolian variety... :) Now, if those were frozen "Southern-style" hash browns, and you bound the meat w/ either a cream sauce or cream soup and they were on the bottom, then, to my convulted (or maybe not so much?) way of thinking, hot dish it would be. But it's not necessarily about ingredient quality, either; I've had something served as hot dish proper that was wild rice, beef stock, wild mushrooms, onions and cubed leftover beef, layered up and baked. And damn it was good, but she called it hot dish specifically, even though we were in CA where she COULD as easily have called it a casserole and that one would have been correct either way. So. Go figure. But hopefully this will engender some interesting discussion, unless the topic is toooo boring, in which case it will sink like a stone. :)

    2. :( I'm the product of centuries of East Coast residents. I never even heard the term "hot dish" until I joined CH. Never even had a casserole growing up. Family never even did the ubiquitous holiday green bean casserole until sisters married and picked up that unholy mess from their in-laws.

      13 Replies
      1. re: gaffk

        Also an east coaster by birth. I've only learned the term hot dish here. We knew of this sort of thing as casserole. Tuna noodle casserole was the only one served in my family and I hated it. And to be at a friend's for dinner, the word casserole struck fear in my heart. I think because people just didn't do them well.
        Some of the ideas blow actually sound pretty good.

        1. re: alliegator

          There are casseroles and casseroles. Some of them I just love, a lot of them are just kind of lazy-sounding.

          1. re: EWSflash

            Agreed. Some I've encountered online (I'm looking at you, Pinterest) scream "I'm to busy to give a crap what I'm feeding myself, family or guests today, so I'll just slop all of this crap together".

        2. re: gaffk

          Native Kentuckian here, and while I ate plenty of casseroles growing up, didn't hear of "hot dish" until maybe 10 years ago. Looking forward to educating myself about it via this thread.

          Reminds me of hub's relative in Bombay, who always serves me a "bake." I find that as funny at "hotdish"--words that really don't tell me anything a'tall.

          1. re: pine time

            Yes, I remember the first time I heard someone tell me that we're having hot dish, and I stopped in my tracks. Did the culinary world just resolve into "hot dishes" and "not-hot dishes"?

            1. re: Bada Bing

              Corollary: "loose meat." (Hope that's not de-railing this topic.) First time I ever heard that was on the old Roseanne TV show. Sounds far from appetizing, and like some version of sloppy Joe.

              1. re: pine time

                Very timely (for me) to mention loose meat! A few weeks ago I was watching Rosanne during a little bout of insomnia and I had to look it up. Doesn't exactly make me drool, either.

                1. re: pine time

                  It's basically as you say....just a nice, crumbly pile of seasoned, sauceless meat served atop a bun. Can't think of a single thing to recommend it, but I understand that the folk who hail from IA inhale those loosemeats and maidrites like nobody's business.

                  1. re: mamachef

                    and what the heck is a maidrite? I'm learning all sorts of new words here!

                    1. re: pine time

                      A maidrite is just a loosemeats sandwich (and no, that "s" isn't there by mistake - there's no such thing as a "loosemeat" sandwich) as served and t.m'd by the Maidrite franchise. :)

                      1. re: mamachef

                        I've been to probably 35 of our 50 states...IA may need a road trip. But not sure loosemeats would be on my agenda.

                        1. re: pine time

                          Well, if only for CH cred., you might want to try one but I wouldn't go out of my way to find it. OTOH, if you can find some true, IA dried beef (which bears ZERO resemblance to that chipped crap in jars), honey: you are in for creamed dried beef nirvana; served over biscuits or homefries. Oh HELL yeah.

                          1. re: mamachef

                            You had me at biscuits and homefries. Shoot, I'd eat a braised shoe over biscuits and homefries.

          2. Hot dish is also endemic to Indiana. My vote is that, yes, though I might not have thought of it if playing Categories, Shepherds/Cottage Pie is a hot dish.

            I base this on my native recognition of the hot dish, and also, on the version of cottage pie served in my company cafeteria.

            17 Replies
            1. re: DebinIndiana


              I grew up in Indiana and ate many casseroles. I never ONCE heard the term "Hot Dish" until moving to Minnesota.

              1. re: sandylc

                Seconding Sandy: I've lived in Indiana (South Bend area) for 7 years and am quite confident that no one I know would have the faintest idea what "hot dish" means. It's hardly "endemic." But I'm not charging you with fibbing, Deb, of course. I think your experience must reflect some localized culture. Where exactly have you heard people use this term in Indiana? Just curious.

                p.s., I lived many years in North Dakota, too, so the item itself is endemic to one place I know well. :)

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  I remember that soon after moving to Minne-hoota years ago, I was invited to a potluck. I asked someone what I should bring, and she said, "Oh, just bring a hot dish."

                  I puzzled over that for quite a while, finally deciding that these strange and different Scandihoovian types like to divide their potluck offerings between hot items and cold items. That made a certain sort of sense, I thought.

                  Ha. Took me a few more years before I learned the real meaning of the term "hotdish" (I was pretty young, and hence was more often in a nightclub than in a church basement!)

                  1. re: sandylc

                    Do you think, sandylc, that there is also an inflection issue with "hotdish?" To me (growing up and living in MN) I hear a marked difference between bring a hot dish (id est, not a cold salad or something) versus bringing a HOTdish, the second term being run together as a compound word, with the emphasis on the first syllable?

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      Yes, surely that is true! And I am also sure, in hindsight, that the person telling me to bring a HOTdish meant a casserole - I was just too ignorant of Minne-hootan ways to know what she meant....!

                      Minnesotans, please don't be insulted by my poking fun - having lived quite a lot more than half of my life here now, I am one of you (?)

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Eh, no harm! We know how weird we are. And we're probably inwardly satisfied to have something (hotdish!) that stymies and enchants the rest of the foodie world!

                        ETA: the Scandinavian smörgåsboard includes a progression through fish dishes, cold dishes and hot dishes; I wonder what influence that has had on terminology in this heavily Scandinavian region.

                        1. re: sandylc

                          sandylc: we are old MN, from way way back, and I for one am not at all offended. Pretty hilarious, actually. You've lived there half your life; I've spent enough time there between college and visits to qualify too!! :) (By "we," I mean my fambly BEFORE my parents took a powder on the Frozen State. And we too have a nickname for the denizens there in: Skandaminneans, or Hoodasotans. :) Dunno why the last, but... :)

                          1. re: mamachef

                            mamachef, even surrounded by them, and being such, we call them Scandihoovians. We take the good with the bad, there. <scandihoovian grin here>

                            1. re: cayjohan

                              There are good things about the great white north; for one, we are unlikely to have earthquakes!

                              1. re: sandylc

                                Apparently you haven't heard about the oh so ominous St. Olaf's Fault!

                      2. re: Bada Bing

                        Also from northern Indiana. In my youth, when there were church dinners, the women (not everyone, mind, just the women) were often asked to bring a "hot dish." I do not remember ever hearing a call for casseroles -- I could certainly have forgotten.

                        I do also think that there is a different inflection in the "HOTdish" that I hear from some of you here. But, when we are asked to bring that hot dish, it is going to be some kind of creamy (most likely) or tomatoey starch-heavy main dish with meat.

                        BTW, I would say we don't have "pot luck" either -- I hear "carry-in" nowadays, and can't remember if that's always been the termnology or not.

                      3. re: sandylc

                        I first heard the term from a Minnesotan.

                    2. My personal belief is to be a true midwestern church basement lady will call it a "hot dish" is it must have cream of something soup as an ingredient. As they are the "purists" in this type of debate, that's why I never make one.

                      Kinda like bourbon and whisky. All bourbons are whiskeys, but not the other way around. All hot dishes are casseroles, but not vice versa.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: autumm

                        I always thought it was any type of casserole (only from what I read here, otherwise I would have no idea), but when my friend from North Dakota stayed with us, she saw I had some kind of Campbells cream of something in the garage, plus egg noodles, and apparently that's what hot dish is to her. Some kind of meat is required too; all I had was canned tuna. One night I went to take a nap and returned to her serving our husbands a "hot dish". They both seemed very happy. I make the same thing but it is called "Tuna Casserole".

                        1. re: coll

                          my 11-year-old daughter makes a hamburger stroganoff hot dish that she loves. It's done on the stove and has lots of other things like wine, beef stock, and sour creamt, but it does have egg noodles and cream of mushroom. It's her favorite dish. I am not a huge fan of the cream soups, but this stuff is awesome.

                          1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                            Sounds Screamin,' Sisterfunkhaus. I like to make something very similar. I like it hot; I like it cold; and I like it with little extra dabs of sour cream on top of every bite.
                            I'm not a cream soupaholic either - but for some things, simply nothing else will do. It was a monstrous shock to my dear departed Grandma when she couldn't find Campbell's Cream of Onion soup at ANY grocery when she moved from GA to the Midwest. :)

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Wow, I didn't even know that soup existed!!

                              But I just have to say that there is some award, or some special place in foodie heaven, deserved by someone who puts little dabs of sour cream on top of every bite of a dish that already includes sour cream <3

                              Sadly, as age advances, sour cream causes me to feel my arteries clogging, so I now (for cold applications) substitute Greek yogurt and haven't made stroganoff in quite awhile. But I haven't forgotten my lifelong sour cream love ... I remember.

                              1. re: foiegras

                                Oh, foiegras....I accept the award with honor!! *sniff* I can't believe they picked me....*sniff, sob* ..... :)
                                Ya know, Greek yogurt IS proof that G*d loves us and wants us to be happy, or at least wants us to have a perfect substitute for full-fat sour cream. I LOVE the stuff and use it in everything, up to and including as a base for some pretty fabulous salad dressings....
                                All is not lost.

                      2. A gratin is a shallow baking dish, and also the food baked in it. Gratins usually have bread crumb toppings but not necessarily cheese. There are fruit gratins whose topping is crumbs made from cookies or stale cake.

                        As I understand casseroles, they are at least twice as deep as gratins.


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: greygarious

                          It also refers to the browned topping of "grated" crumbs, cheese or whatever. The cooking utensil was named for the kind of dish it usually contained, not the other way around, and is shallow because the whole dish must cook properly in a short enough time to prevent the gratinée on top from burning. But a dish may be prepared au gratin in any sort of cooking vessel. As I usually cook for just two, I've gotten quite a collection of gratin pans in which I bake (not broil) most of my side dishes … but now we're getting offtopic, because those are NOT "Hot Dishes" at all.

                          My mothers "green beans au gratin" (which she pronounced "awe grotten") might be a Hot Dish - usually canned French-cut beans in a cheese sauce baked in a glass baking pan - or maybe not, if we want to define Hot Dish as a main course. Tuna-noodle casserole most definitely is; aside from being a favorite to eat and make from childhood, I'll never forget Garrison Keillor and Jean Redpath harmonizing on his "Tuna Casserole" song, placing it squarely in the church-basement supper setting. Thinking about those very suppers of my Illinois youth, I can definitely see how welcome - and at home - a shepherd's pie would have been.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Well, you COULD bake a 3" deep potatoes au gratin, or escalloped potatoes, in a casserole dish, but it would not thicken and brown as appealingly as it will if it's spread out into a larger, shallow dish. I think of hot dish and casserole as largely synonymous, but always at least 2" deep. I never heard of hot dish before listening to Prairie Home Companion. Years ago, by sheer luck I noticed a listing for Jean Redpath's Robert Burns commemoration concert at a regional church that same day, and went. Her voice was in its prime at the time, and she had great spontaneous wit, as well. I bought several of her cassette tapes at the concert, and still enjoy them. It's been several years since I've heard her on PHC; her voice had weakened by that time.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              I got to meet Jean Redpath and hear her sing at a small dance/benefit for a drug control facility in Sonora CA, in 1971. The woman in charge of the place was an old friend of hers, and Jean used to come up for a quiet smalltown visit when she could. Delightful person, very much the same whether talking around a table or onstage. No wonder she was so at home on PHC.

                              Okay, back on-topic: the scalloped potatoes I grew up with were at least 3" deep, and cooked at a low enough temperature to avoid the browning - we referred to it as "scorching" - that none of us liked. The ones I make have a heavy enough coating of crumbs and cheese to keep the potatoes from getting browner than I want, while cooking long enough for the potatoes to soften and sauce to thicken.