This baked dish of yumminess is not light in the calorie department, but it is so satisfying- creamy, cheesy, hearty, comforting- everything a casserole should be.
About a month or so ago, the wonderful woman who owns the best orchid and gift shop in Winter Park, Ginny’s Orchids, reached out to me to develop a chicken casserole. I loved the challenge. I have not made a casserole in years and thought this would be the perfect time of year to try out a new hearty and comforting recipe. As luck would have it, about a week later, Ree Drummond posted a recipe of a broccoli rice casserole I used as an inspiration. I added more veggies, less cheese, and tons of roasted chicken. Then I topped the casserole with tortilla chips, but Hunky Hubbie insisted on Ritz Crackers, so for our second attempt, I added crushed Ritz and there you go- one scrumptious, chicken casserole.
This makes enough to feed a family of 4-6. It’s perfect for when all your college kids come home, or as a dish to take to the neighborhood pot luck or just a fun dish the entire family can make together. If you have a smaller family, this dish will last you several nights. It’s just like a lasagna and gets better on day two.
Your family can easily help out by chopping the veggies, prepping the rice- use quick rice- save your self some time, and little ones will love crushing the crackers in a bag. See my notes below on how to reduce the calories- panko bread crumbs and less cheese are the ticket.
This ones for you, Ginny. Enjoy!
Pure Comfort CHICKEN Casserole
3 cups brown rice, cooked
3 chicken breasts, roasted and shredded
1 large head of broccoli, trimmed into florets
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced, 2 cloves garlic minced
1 4 oz can green chilies, diced
1 stick ( 8 TBSP ) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 oz whole milk
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/4- 1/2 cup water or low sodium chicken broth
1 cup sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded, more if desired to top casserole
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp paprika
1 TBSP dry mustard
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp tumeric
salt and pepper to taste
1 sleeve Rtiz Crackers, crumbled
Method- prep time- 1 hour, baking time 30 minutes
- In a large pot or Dutch Oven filled with boiling water, cook broccoli for five minutes until bright green and just tender. Plunge into cold water 1 minute to stop cooking and retain the color. Drain. Set broccoli aside. Wipe down pot.
In the same pot, melt 1 TBSP butter over medium low heat. Sauté the bell peppers, onions and 2 cloves of minced garlic until fragrant and translucent. Set aside.
- Make your sauce:
In the same large pot or Dutch Over, over medium low heat, melt remaining butter. Add flour and whisk constantly until flour is cooked through, about 2-3 minutes, and begins to thicken.
Add milk slowly, whisking constantly.
Add the softened cream cheese to the roux. Stir cream cheese until it has dissolved and thickened into the sauce. About 3-5 minutes.
Add turmeric, dry mustard, paprika and garlic salt. Stir until well blended.
Once sauce is thick, on very low heat, add cheddar and whisk in until melted.
Add parmesan, stir until melted.
Finally, if needed, add salt and pepper to taste and water or chicken broth if sauce is too thick to pour. Cover pot, remove from heat, but keep warm.
Set aside while you assemble the casserole.
- To assemble-
In a large 9 x 13 pan, spread rice over bottom of pan.
Top with cooked broccoli.
Next add the shredded, roasted chicken.
Top with the peppers, onions, garlic and green chilis.
Spoon cheese sauce over top of the veggies covering all the corners.
Finally, top with crumbled Ritz Crackers. You can add more cheese if desired.
Bake at 350 degrees until brown and bubbling.
Can you freeze this dish?
YES! Before baking, Do not add any extra cheese layer to the top. Wrap the dish in foil and then cover and wrap with freezer grade plastic wrap. To Reheat, remove the casserole from the freezer and let thaw in the fridge overnight. Remove the plastic. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then add the cheese and crackers and bake about 15 minutes more. Internal temperature should reach 165 degrees for food safety.
How to Make a Roux-
When making the roux, you can add either whole milk, or lower fat milk. I figure, I’d just go for it on this dish and do full fat. To make a lower calorie recipe, you can substitute the cheddar for all parmesan, 2% milk, and reduce the amount of milk and add chicken broth instead. You can also double the veggies. Try using panko bread crumbs for a topping for less calories while retaining that crunch.
I think there is SO much more flavor found in making your own roux. I did not add any salt to my casserole at all except to the water I cooked the broccoli in and the garlic salt. Also, I did not add any melted butter or cheese to the Ritz crackers. I found the topping to be crunchy and buttery enough without adding extra cheese or butter. The cheeses are loaded with salt, so taste your cheese sauce first before adding any additional salt. I think adding pepper might be a great flavor booster.
While “researching” this recipe, I found SO many options using the dreaded Cream of ____ soup. It adds nothing really but salt.
You could also get creative by adding any number of vegetables such as peas, squash, carrots- knock yourself out. I think the bright colors of broccoli and peppers with a can of chilis work perfectly. We tried adding a can of diced tomatoes with chilis but that just watered down the dish and did not add much flavor. Just made things kind of mushy. I’m a big believer in- if it adds FLAVOR- add it in.
As aways, shoot me your messages and notes in the comment section. I love to hear from my little home chefs- what worked for you, what didn’t.