We wanted to develop a hearty chicken and rice casserole that would appeal to kids and adults alike, and we wanted to be able to make this weeknight workhorse ahead of time. We started by replacing the typical cream soup with a flour-thickened sauce enhanced with some aromatics. But we quickly found that cooking chicken and rice together can be tricky, and cooking them separately required dirtying another pot. By poaching the chicken breasts in the sauce first, we found it easy to remove them once cooked, then stir in the rice. This two-step method worked like a charm; both elements cooked evenly and each absorbed the sauce’s flavor while lending their own key attributes to the sauce. We were also happy to find that chicken cooked this way tasted juicier and maintained its texture better, even when
held overnight. To boost the sauce’s flavor, we used chicken broth and some cream for richness; a small amount of flour thickened the sauce nicely. The final components of the casserole were shredded cheddar cheese, which added a pleasant bite; easy-to-use frozen peas and carrots; and a bit of fresh lemon juice to brighten everything up. Fresh bread crumbs added great crunch and held up nicely in the fridge or freezer. After adding the rice, be sure to stir the sauce often for the first few minutes, using a heatproof rubber spatula; this is when the rice is most likely to clump and stick to the bottom of the pot. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.
- Yield: 8 Servings
- Total Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes
- 4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons melted
- 5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
- 1½ cups long-grain white rice
- 1 (1-pound) bag frozen peas and carrots (3 cups)
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Pulse bread and 2 tablespoons melted butter in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 6 pulses. Spread crumbs evenly over rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until light golden and dry, 20 to 30 minutes. Let crumbs cool completely, about 20 minutes, then toss with 2 tablespoons parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
- Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and cream.
- Add chicken and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until chicken registers 160 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to cutting board.
- Stir rice into liquid in pot, cover, and cook over low heat, stirring often, until rice has absorbed much of liquid and is just tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks. Off heat, stir in shredded chicken and any accumulated juices, peas and carrots, cheddar, and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with crumb topping.
- Bake until sauce is bubbling and hot throughout, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons parsley before serving.