How To Make Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

updated Sep 8, 2022
How to Make Chicken and Rice Casserole

Get ready to grab your largest serving spoon to scoop up generous portions of seasoned chicken and creamy rice and vegetables.

Serves4 to 6

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Some days supper is ripe for experimentation (trying a new recipe, technique, or ingredient), while others you just want an easy, no-fail classic. On these days, I look to casserolestuna noodle, chili mac, or, my personal favorite, cheesy chicken and rice.

Here, I’m sharing the best version I know, which involves a few small upgrades for maximum flavor. You’ll whisk together your own creamy sauce to cook the tender white rice and bite-sized veggies, and you’ll also swap chicken breasts for savory, juicy thighs.

Get ready to grab your largest serving spoon to scoop up generous portions of seasoned chicken and creamy rice and vegetables. There’s no need for fussy garnishes or other fanfare, although I like it best with a few dashes of hot sauce. Here’s how to make it.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What Is Chicken and Rice Casserole?

Campbell’s Soup Company introduced this homestyle casserole as a way to use their condensed cream of chicken soup. In the decades since, there’s no doubt that the cheesy chicken and rice casserole served at potlucks and delivered to friends in need all relied on that can of soup.

Since we’re all home now, looking for more cooking projects, there’s never been a better time to make your own condensed soup from scratch (no shame to the canned stuff!) The homemade version is made with just a few pantry staples — flour, broth, and a splash of milk — and I promise you will not miss out on any of the classic creamy chicken flavor.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Why Frozen Vegetables — Not Fresh — Are Best

Frozen mixed vegetables require none of the peeling, chopping, and blanching that fresh vegetables do — they’re like a time machine in a bag! The bite-sized bits are quick to thaw and just the right size for mixing into casseroles.

If you forgot to pick up a bag of chopped mixed vegetables, check your fridge and freezer to see what produce you have on hand. Small florets of broccoli, a few baby carrots, or the lingering limp stalk of celery can be cut into bite-sized cubes and added to this casserole instead. Whatever you do, don’t skimp: Every forkful should be full of veggies.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3 Tips for the Best Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

  1. Use chicken thighs, not breasts. Chicken thighs are higher in fat than breasts, so they remain tender, juicy, and more flavorful after baking. They’re also less expensive. That said, we’ve included instructions for both thighs and breasts.
  2. Cover the baking dish with foil. The rice needs to absorb the liquid from the sauce and any juices that the chicken gives off, so don’t let it evaporate during baking. Wrapping the baking dish in foil also protects the boneless, skinless thighs or breasts from the intense, direct heat of the oven — resulting in tender, juicy chicken.
  3. Turn off the oven to melt the cheese. The final step is sprinkling with shredded cheddar cheese. Turn off the oven, and return the dish to the still-warm oven just until the cheese melts. The cheese slowly and gently melts so that when you spoon into the casserole, the gooey cheese lingers, unable to decide whether to stay in the dish or travel to your plate.
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Here’s how to make creamy chicken and rice casserole.

How to Make Chicken and Rice Casserole

Get ready to grab your largest serving spoon to scoop up generous portions of seasoned chicken and creamy rice and vegetables.

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1 cup

    diced yellow onion (from 1 medium onion)

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 3 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 3/4 cups

    low-sodium chicken broth

  • 1/2 cup

    whole or 2% milk

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, divided

  • 3/4 cup

    uncooked long-grain white rice

  • 3 cups

    frozen mixed vegetables, such as carrots, corn, peas, and green beans

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat

  • 1/2 cup

    shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)

  • Hot sauce, for serving

Equipment

  • Knife and cutting board

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Large skillet

  • Wooden spoon or spatula

  • Whisk

  • 11x7-inch or 1 1/2-quart baking dish

  • Tongs

  • Aluminum foil

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven and prepare the baking dish. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Coat an 11x7-inch or 1 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

  2. Sauté the onion in butter. Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup diced yellow onion and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt and sauté until onion is soft but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

  3. Stir in the flour. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly to coat the flour in the butter and to cook off the raw flour flavor.

  4. Add the chicken broth and milk and cook until thickened. Pour in 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth and whisk to incorporate, breaking up any lumps of flour and onion and scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour in 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper and whisk to completely incorporate. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes.

  5. Add sauce to rice and vegetables in baking dish. Place 3/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice and 3 cups frozen mixed vegetables in the prepared baking dish. Pour in the sauce and stir to combine.

  6. Season the chicken and lay on the rice mixture. Season 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs all over with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Nestle the chicken on top of the rice mixture. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.

  7. Bake for 1 hour. Bake until the rice is tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 160°F, about 1 hour.

  8. Top with shredded cheese. Turn the oven off. Uncover and sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Return to the still-warm oven uncovered and let sit until the cheese melts, 2 to 4 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Chicken breast swap: To use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, you’ll need 3 (6 to 8-ounce) breasts. The bake time remains the same.

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