How 7 Chicken Comfort Food Dishes Came to Be

Photo: Campbell's; Illustration: Allie Pakrosnis/Thrillist
Photo: Campbell's; Illustration: Allie Pakrosnis/Thrillist

Few things hit the spot like comfort food, and that’s especially true for these seven chicken-based dishes. To become a timeless recipe, though, requires a lengthy culinary journey, so we decided to research where, exactly, these beloved dishes come from. One has been around since ancient Rome, others entered the lexicon via fancy restaurants, but all have since worked their way into home kitchens across the United States and secured their spot as all-time favorites in the process. Simply put, any good home cook should have at least one of these dishes in their weekly rotation, so we included simple recipes -- which all start with a can of Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup -- for pulling them off yourself, too.

Chicken Divan

Many dishes that now sit squarely in the “home cooking” category actually got their start in fine dining, as is the case with Chicken Divan. It was first served in the early 1900s at the Chatham Hotel in New York City (a building that has since been demolished) and was the signature dish of the hotel’s restaurant: Divan Parisienne. This casserole dish is typically made with cheese sauce, broccoli, and (of course) chicken, but variations run the gamut: some have mushrooms, or asparagus, and a few are even topped with potato chips. 
Try it: Chicken Broccoli Divan

Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken & dumplings is as emblematic of Southern cooking as biscuits or barbecue -- but thanks to it being both easy to pull off and inexpensive to make, you can find it on menus (and in homes) across the country. Essentially, the addition of dumplings (which here are basically biscuits dropped into the soup) help stretch the chicken into a few more meals that are equally filling. Because of that, many assume the dish originated during The Great Depression, but that narrative is mostly false. In fact, references to the dish appear as far back as 1836, and it often signaled prosperity for the family serving it, as chicken was an expensive addition to most meals. Thanks to that, the dish was usually reserved for Sunday dinners, but with the help of a slow cooker, you can pull it off on a weeknight today.
Try it: Slow Cooker Chicken & Dumplings

Photo: Campbell's; Illustration: Allie Pakrosnis/Thrillist

Chicken Risotto

Pulling off a creamy, decadent risotto feels like a magic trick: in most traditional recipes, there’s no cream at all, the luxurious texture comes solely from the rice’s starch. That said, you can’t really get into risotto’s history without discussing rice’s role in Italy: Arab traders first brought rice to Italy and Spain during the Middle Ages, and Italians became particularly fond of growing shorter grain varieties like arborio, the rice used in risotto. One of the most iconic takes, Risotto alla Milanese was made with saffron in the country’s north, but varieties with everything from mushrooms to shrimp sprung up in popularity in the coastal region. When Italians immigrated to the United States, they brought risotto with them, and as chicken became a major player in weeknight meal plans, recipes have adjusted to include it. Another aspect of the dish was disrupted, too: the need to stir constantly for half an hour to achieve the creamy consistency. With a few tricks, like using condensed soup, you can skip the arm workout.
Try it: Chicken & Roasted Garlic Risotto    

Chicken Pot Pie

Pie in any form may feel American, but chicken pot pie has roots that go all the way back to the Roman Empire, long before anyone uttered the phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Back then, meat pies were the gold-flaked pizza of their day, sometimes stuffed with live birds that would fly out at serving time for a truly show-stopping pastry. From there, versions of pot pies appeared in Greece, Italy, and England, where instead of stunt food for royalty, the pot pie became street food thanks to its hearty crust and portability. As for the States, the cookbook American Cookery listed a chicken pot pie recipe as early as 1796, and today, the usual household recipe contains tender chicken, a creamy sauce, carrots, peas, and onions, all encased in a perfectly flaky crust. It’s warm, homey, and filling -- just like comfort food should be. 
Try it: Easy Chicken Pot Pie

Photo: Campbell's; Illustration: Allie Pakrosnis/Thrillist

Chicken Tetrazzini

Despite the name, chicken tetrazzini isn’t some Old World Italian comfort food dish. In fact, its only tie to anything Italian is opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, who won hearts in San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century. The dish was created in her honor; it's traditionally made with spaghetti, heavy cream, chicken, mushrooms, and Parmesan -- and topped with TWO French sauces: a chicken velouté and hollandaise. From there, chicken tetrazzini was presented as swanky, making its way onto menus at expensive hotels around the US. As home cooks started trying their hand at the recipe in their own kitchens, though, chicken tetrazzini became synonymous with “casserole” and “potlucks.” Regional varieties have sprouted up, too, like Mississippi-style, which is made with canned tomatoes and spicy chiles for a little extra kick. 
Try it: Tempting Tetrazzini Casserole

Chicken Gumbo 

Gumbo, the state dish of Louisiana, is a thick stew usually made with meat, chicken, or seafood (or a combination of all three) plus veggies, and usually okra. The dish’s name actually comes from the West African word for okra, gombo, however, some recipes call for filé, AKA dried and ground sassafras leaves. Gumbo’s origins, though, are much like the people of the Pelican State: a complete melting pot. The dish is about 300 years old, and considered to be Creole, though its cooking technique is like a mashup of a French bouillabaisse and African stew. Whether it be three centuries ago or today, one thing has remained: gumbo can be made with just about anything (shrimp, leftover Thanksgiving turkey with oysters, even veal.) The chicken and sausage variety, however, has found its way into kitchens across America thanks to its simple ingredients and satisfying spice. 
Try it: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Also known as sopa azteca, tortilla soup is a staple in Mexico City, where it’s made with chicken broth, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles, and tortillas, which are cut into strips and fried. Spicy enough to act as a decongestant and hearty enough for chilly evenings, the classic Mexican soup traveled with immigrants to California, where it’s been on the menus of restaurants since the early 1900s. Thanks to its lengthy history, variations run the gamut: some with beans, some with roasted chiles, and Tex-Mex varieties topped with sour cream and Cheddar. While the soup’s exact origins aren’t very clearly defined, it sprawled out across the US in the ’80s, when Southwestern cuisine started popping up in trendy restaurants. Now, it’s fit for a Taco Tuesday night in any kitchen.
Try it: Slow Cooker Fiesta Chicken Tortilla Soup