Casseroles. If you are from the South, “almost” everyone loves them. And I mean loves ALL kinds of casseroles. They are easy, one pot, comfort foods, main meals, side dishes, desserts, breakfasts…ANYTHING you want them to be! In fact…we like to just turn ordinary, plain dishes into some sort of casserole. For no reason other than just adding that word to the end of it! Enchilada Casseroles, Hamburger Casseroles, Spaghetti Casseroles, RandomVegetableCansInOurPantry Casseroles. I mean…why not, right?!?!
Luck would have it that I…of all people…would have one of those “almost” everyone, best friends that I CLEARLY think something is wrong with (“Whitney”–Name may or may NOT be changed to protect her from the casserole backlash). “Whitney” dislikes anything followed by the word “casserole”. And. I. Just. Don’t. Understand. So a few years ago, I just started renaming everything when she came to dinner. “Enchilada Pie”, “Sauteed Ground Beef Bake”, “Baked Squash in a Cream Sauce”…you get the idea. But before I started doing that to avoid the “casserole’s stink” debate…I made her try my Chicken & Broccoli Casserole.
And guess what…She liked it. Duh. I mean it’s a casserole, “Whitney”! 🙂
I have been making different versions of Chicken & Broccoli Casserole since I was 18 years old (that was just a couple of years ago by the way…*wink, wink*). Mainly with those cans of “cream of whatever” soup. Loaded with salt & preservatives. (Don’t get me wrong…I still LOVE to use those…just now in moderation). This version is just a TEENSY bit healthier because there is none of that! Fresh broccoli, fresh grated cheese & homemade sauce. And most importantly…it’s still extremely easy to make! I originally found a similar version of this one at “Just Get Off Your Butt & Bake” if you want to check it out.
First you’ll need to boil your chicken in some salt & peppered water. You don’t want to overcook this chicken! And don’t undercook it either! No pressure. 🙂 Now, if you are using chicken breasts on the bone, then boil it for about 25-30 minutes. If you are using boneless, skinless breasts, then boil for about 20 minutes. Really easy. Personally…I always use chicken on the bone. 2 reasons…it’s cheaper and just simply has more flavor! There are more reasons, but I think these 2 are plenty. 🙂
Once the chicken is done, set aside to cool and then shred or chop. Then cut up your broccoli and discard the stems. You’ll want to grab your casserole dish and spray it with Butter Flavored Pam. Then layer the chicken and broccoli mixture on the bottom.
Now you’ll want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get your sauce started. If you haven’t already…get your cheese grated, chop your shallot & dissolve your cornstarch in ice cold water. I use a cornstarch slurry here because sometimes a roux is intimidating for people. And because others want a gluten free way to thicken a soup or sauce. On to a very important ingredient…the cheese. My ALL time favorite cheddar is Cabot. Every. Single. Kind. of. Cabot. If you haven’t tried it…start now. For this recipe, I used Seriously Sharp Cheddar. I also used fresh grated Monterrey Jack. Sadly…I don’t have a preference. Maybe I should eat more to find one. 🙂
In a saucepan, cook your shallot/onion in the melted butter on medium heat. Then add in the milk, dissolved cornstarch, chicken broth, dashes of hot sauce (optional), salt & pepper. Whisk this until it starts to thicken like a “creamy” soup. Once it is “creamy”, remove it from the heat, add in 2 cups of your cheese mixture & sour cream. Mix it well until the cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
Once the sauce is mixed & cheese is melted, pour it over the chicken & broccoli. Then grate some fresh parmesan on top. Add the rest of the grated cheese, then finally add the crushed crackers on top to cover. (If you want to keep this dish Gluten Free…then top with Glutino Brand Crackers, crushed & mixed with a little salt & pepper). Spray the crackers with Butter Flavored Pam & garnish with poppy seeds. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown & bubbly!
**Here are 3 extra tips for this recipe! You can add chopped mushrooms, carrots, celery or any vegetable you need to cook when you are sauteing your shallot so that you have another veggie in the mixture. You can also add a cup of 10 minute boil in a bag Success Rice to the chicken & broccoli mixture before you bake it. Just follow the cooking instructions on the box. And if you don’t have time to boil some chicken, then buy & shred a rotisserie from the grocery store deli! It’s just as flavorful and saves some extra time.**
Can’t you tell that this is a very versatile casserole?!?!
Let this cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
I’m pretty confident that “Whitney” wouldn’t hesitate at all about trying a casserole made like this one!! Let me know what else you add or change! Enjoy!
“Healthy-(Er)”Chicken & Broccoli Casserole
3 Heads of Fresh Broccoli, Chopped & Stems Discarded (Around 4 cups)
3-4 lbs Chicken, Shredded or Chopped (About 4 Chicken Breasts or 1 Rotisserie Chicken)
2 ½ c. Fresh Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Monterrey Jack (Mixture of Both)
1/2 c. Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese for topping
2 Tubes of Ritz Crackers, Crushed (Can use Glutino, Gluten Free Original, Crushed up with Extra Salt)
Pam Butter Spray
Poppy Seeds for Garnish
1 tsp Hot Sauce or Tobasco (Optional)
1/2 Stick of Unsalted Butter
2 Shallots, Diced (or 1 small onion)
1/4 c. Cornstarch, Dissolved in 1/4 c. Ice Cold Water
1/2 c. Sour Cream
3/4 c. Chicken Broth
1 1/2 c. Whole Milk (Can use Lactose Free Milk or 1/2 Heavy Cream, 1/2 Milk)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1. Boil chicken in salt & pepper water for about 30 minutes. (If boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then cut cooking time down to 20 minutes). Set aside to cool.
2. Chop broccoli & set aside, discarding stems.
3. When chicken is cool, shred or chop chicken, discarding bones & skin.
4. Layer chicken & broccoli mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased casserole dish.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
6. In a saucepan on medium high heat, melt butter and sauté shallot until translucent. About 3-4 minutes.
7. Whisk in milk, chicken stock, dissolved cornstarch, hot sauce (optional), salt & pepper. Cook until mixture begins to thicken whisking constantly so it doesn’t stick.
8. When mixture begins to thicken, remove from heat and add in 2 c. of grated cheese & the sour cream until sauce is smooth & cheese melted.
9. Pour mixture over chicken.
10. Top with parmesan cheese & then cheese blend.
11. Top the cheese layer with crushed Ritz Crackers.
12. Spray a light layer of Pam on top of crackers to brown.
13. Garnish with Poppy Seeds.
14. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until bubbly & brown.