Last Saturday, Mike and I were in the middle of a beautiful grocer in Wales. We’d popped into town before our hike to pick up ingredients for dinner later that night. With the full intention of buying some local beef and seasonal veggies.
I was standing in front of a display of artisanal pasta and cans of tomatoes. Suddenly it hit me over the head – a wave of nostalgia for autumnal comfort food cooked by my dad, and a very specific craving for my childhood favorite dish – Boom-di-yay.
Every fall in Massachusetts, where I’m from, there’s this one very specific day. It’s usually in late September or early October. You’ve gone to bed the previous evening with the blanket of summer over New England – chirping birds, salty summer air, freshly cut grass – and the next morning you wake up to fall. The leaves are a little bit redder, the air has a crisp bite that makes you want to wrap yourself up in a plaid scarf and drink cocoa. American football games have just come back into the Sunday routine, and bonus – it’s baseball playoff season, too. (Can you tell, it’s my favorite time of year?)
My dad somehow senses earlier in the week that this cherished day is approaching. He checks to make sure the woodpile is overflowing in our driveway to light a fire, he has his Marc Cohn CD ready to play on surround sound (Walking in Memphis is our favorite song). And he stocks up on the ingredients for our family’s favorite meal – Boom-di-yay.
What a ridiculous name for a dish, huh. To be honest, we don’t know if it has a specific origin. Normal non-McNamaras probably would call it ‘Creamy Tomato Chicken Casserole’. But during our toddler years, my brother and I started calling it Boom-di-yay. And it stuck.
It’s simply poached chicken in a cream sauce and tomato base, over a bed of noodles and browned under the broiler (‘grill’ to the Brits) with parmesan cheese. Simple, indulgent, and the perfect comfort dish to feed a hungry family, or just prepare on a Sunday and freeze for meals during the week. My grandmother, Gaga, adapted it from an original recipe in the New York Times decades ago, and my dad’s been perfecting it ever since.
So last weekend, I must have sensed the same feeling my dad gets when those New England leaves turn, when he lights a fire, and blasts Marc Cohn through the house, and fills it with the smell of Boom-di-yay. The leaves in Wales were indeed turning, there was in fact a chill in the air, and we were about to burn thousands of calories on a hike and come home to a lit fire. So Boom-di-yay season it was, and now you can make it too!
- Cook Time: Approximately 1 hour
- Serves: 4-6 people
- 3 or 4 chicken breasts
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 yellow onion
- 6-8 oz medium width noodles
- 5 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cup fresh or canned chicken stock (if fresh, see details included in directions below for how to use water from poaching the chickens as your stock)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 shallots
- 3 400g (14oz) cans plum or chopped tomatoes (I prefer plum)
- Salt and pepper, freshly ground
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp shaved parmasean (optional)
- Olive oil
- One large stock pots
- Large casserole dish (rectangular, oval…doesn’t matter which shape)
- Small saucepan
- Large saucepan (I prefer to use a dutch oven, it cooks more evenly)
- Two cutting boards (one for chicken, one for veggies, or simply use one and wash during the process)
- Small knife
- Measuring cup
- Cheese grater (if parmasean isn’t bought pre-grated)
- Wooden spoon
- Boil large pot of water. Add dash olive oil and salt. Cook noodles (al dente, you don’t want them over cooked).
- Drain noodles and empty them into the large casserole dish. Sprinkle olive oil or a few small cubes of butter over them and mix around. Set aside.
- Add new water to the large pot and bring to a boil.
- While water is boiling, dice the chicken into 1 in. cubes.
- Halve or quarter the yellow onion.
- Add the chicken, pieces of yellow onion, and bay leaves to the boiling part of water. Poach the chicken for about 10-15 min.
- Save 2 cups of the water the chicken was poached in to be used for the chicken stock, unless you’re using canned chicken stock. Drain the rest of the chicken and set aside.
- Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in the small saucepan over low to medium heat. Add the 3 tbsp flour and whisk quickly, creating a roux.
- Add your 2 cups of chicken stock to the roux, and whisk rapidly until smooth.
- Add the 1/2 cup heavy cream and whisk. Let simmer over very low heat.
- In the meantime, finely dice the shallots.
- Heat the remaining butter in the large saucepan or dutch oven over low to medium heat.
- Add the diced shallots to the melting butter, and sprinkle a dash of olive oil on top as well. Cook shallots until translucent.
- Add tomatoes to the shallots. Cook over medium heat until bubbling.
- Add the poached chicken to the shallot / tomato mixture. Add salt and pepper as well.
- Add 1 cup of the creamy chicken stock roux to the chicken, shallot, tomato mixture and stir. Leave the rest of the creamy chicken stock roux in the small sauce pan over very low heat.
- Beat the egg into the remaining creamy chicken stock roux. Bring to a boil and stir rapidly. Then turn heat off.
- Turn broiler on.
- Pour the chicken, tomato, shallot mixture over the noodles in the casserole dish. Then, pour the creamy egg sauce.
- Sprinkle the parmasean cheese on top.
- Place under the broiler and cook until browned on top.
22. Enjoy! We usually serve a side salad with greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes to have something healthy.