The best, cheesy chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole featuring melty Colby Jack cheese and a crunchy Cornflake topping. The perfect comfort food casserole!
Ah, the casserole. Sadly, we just don’t see them around as much these days. Where have you gone? Oh, where have you been? Dearest All-American casserole, it’s high time you made a comeback, and I’m talk’n a big one.
Casseroles were made in abundance when I was a kid, as they were the perfect meal for a working mom, and my mom was one hard-worker. Every bit of sustenance her kids needed was rolled into one dish — a hearty protein, a mix of healthy vegetables, and filling starches. What more could you ask for in a dinner? Other than not having to make it. Good news: The casserole actually answers that request as well, because casseroles go the distance, meaning leftovers for the family, and a night off of kitchen duty for mom or dad. Bonus.
When I was brainstorming about All-American casseroles just screaming for a comeback, Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole quickly came to mind. Both my brother and I used to love this casserole and I gotta tell ya — I didn’t even like broccoli as a kid. However, if you put enough cheese on anything, I’ll eat it, and that’s exactly what mom did. She’s a smart cookie like that.
HOW TO MAKE CHEESY CHICKEN, BROCCOLI, AND RICE CASSEROLE
So, we’ve got four obvious main elements to the dish: (1) chicken, (2) rice, (3) broccoli, and (4) cheese, but, there is a hidden fifth element that is essential to a perfectly creamy casserole, and that is (5) the sauce. We’ll get to that last one later.
THE CHICKEN – HOMEMADE OR ROTISSERIE
Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice casserole can be as quick-fix or homemade as you want to make it. You can bake the chicken yourself using this Perfectly Baked Chicken recipe. It’s simple and no-fuss, but if you want to speed the process along, just grab yourself a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and get to shredding. It wasn’t until my adult years that I became aware of a product called canned chicken. I’m going to have to humbly request you don’t use that product…like, ever. Moving on.
Rice can be a tricky little devil sometimes. How can something that seems so simple, be so finicky? If you’re a veteran at making perfectly steamed rice, this part of the recipe is a cinch, however, if you often take a ride on the “steamed rice” struggle bus, hop on this train instead — tips for perfectly steamed rice straight ahead.
TIPS FOR STEAMING RICE
- Know your simmer: A simmer is sort of like a boil, but rather than those big popping bubbles that come to the water’s surface, we are looking for lots of little tiny streaming bubbles, constantly making their way to the top.
- Keep the lid on: If you just can’t stand it, and you need to see where the water level is within the pan, grab your heat pads, secure the lid and carefully tilt the pot to the side. If you see water, put the pot back down and walk away. If you don’t see any water, it’s a good indication that it’s time to set the pot aside for resting.
- Set a timer: Timers help to keep dinner on track and the rice from scorching the bottom of the pan.
- Let it rest: This allows the heat and steam to redistribute throughout the pot and makes for a fluffier, lighter batch of rice — perfectly cooked rice to be exact.
And, I guess if you really don’t want to mess with steaming rice, you could always go with the instant/boil-in-a-bag version. Just be sure you don’t cook it too long. You want your rice to still have some bite to it before it goes into the casserole.
THE BROCCOLI – STEAM ON THE STOVETOP OR IN THE BAG
Now, for the broccoli, the only thing that really matters here is that you don’t overcook it. The broccoli is going to get mixed into the casserole, smothered in sauce and baked. If it is overcooked before it even goes into the casserole, it’s going to be mush by the time the casserole finishes cooking. If you steam the broccoli yourself, be sure to pull it before it overcooks. If you’ve never steamed broccoli on the stovetop, it’s super easy and you can get all kinds of helpful tips for picking out, trimming and cooking it here.
If however, you’re looking for a shortcut, feel free to grab one of those fresh or frozen “steam fresh” bags from the grocery store. Just be sure you cut the time down by a minute or so so that your broccoli doesn’t overcook.
CHEESE – ALL THE GLORIOUS CHEESE
For all those kiddos (and grown-ups) who just can’t do broccoli without the cheese, let’s go ahead and throw them a bone, shall we? Even if you can do broccoli without the cheese, if it’s an option, you may as well take it, cause a life without cheese is…well, sad. And, so is a casserole without cheese — Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole it is.
CHICKEN, BROCCOLI, AND RICE CASSEROLE — NO CONDENSED SOUPS!
Ok, here’s the deal: When it comes to casseroles, I’m all for taking certain shortcuts, but not when it comes to the sauce. I feel as strongly about condensed soups as I do canned chicken, and both are big no-no’s in The Anthony Kitchen.
HOW TO MAKE CASSEROLE SAUCE FROM SCRATCH
Homemade sauces are easy to make and require nothing more than a little butter, flour, store-bought chicken broth and some dairy. Real ingredients = really good food. To make Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole without soup, the butter is melted in a saucepan, and as soon as it’s melted, the flour goes in. Once the two have cooked together for about a minute, in goes the chicken broth one big splash at a time, whisking well after each addition. This ensures a super smooth, perfect sauce. After the chicken broth has been incorporated, half and half goes in, and it all bubbles together briefly to thicken up, and it’s ready to go! A perfectly creamy homemade sauce, for a perfect, All-American casserole.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the very best part: The topping. The crunchy, cheesy, glorious topping. For a retro casserole throwback, and an unparalleled crunch, Cornflakes are where it’s at. But, before the Cornflakes go on, there’s one last super creamy casserole element I want to tell you about…and also kind of warn you about, cause it’s gonna seem a lit-tle strange.
That stretchy cheese topping? It’s got mayonnaise mixed into it. Yes, mayonnaise. I know. And, I hear ya. But, this is a trick I picked up when making my ultimate cheesy garlic bread, and it does wonders to freshly grated cheese. It really brings it all together and creates one beautiful, homogenous topping. Y’all are just going to have to trust me on this one — it’s incredible. But, if you don’t want to trust me — I guess you could always just leave out the mayonnaise. Wamp, wamp, wamp.
It’s a meal both the children and the grown-ups can totally get down with, and I’d say our work here is done. The casserole is most definitely back, people, and if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s better than ever. Have at it, America, and please, enjoy.
The best, cheesy chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole featuring melty Colby Jack cheese and a crunchy Cornflake topping.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup unsalted chicken broth
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups freshly grated Colby Jack cheese
- 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional)
- 6 cups steamed white rice
- 3 cups roughly chopped, steamed broccoli florets
- 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
- 1 cup Corn Flakes, crushed
Preheat the oven to 375° and have ready a greased casserole dish.
Add the butter to a sauté pan over medium heat. Do not allow the butter to brown. As soon as the butter has melted, add the diced onions and sauté 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until softened.
Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir until combined, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth one big splash at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add in the half and half, salt, and pepper and stir. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Add cheese and mayonnaise (if using) in a small mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine the white rice, broccoli, chicken, and sauce. Stir to combine, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Scatter the cheese across the top, followed by the Corn Flakes.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover the dish and continue baking for 10 minutes more. Allow to cool slightly, serve, and enjoy.
NOTE: Your prep time will vary depending on your choice of preparations for the rice, broccoli, and chicken.