The BEST Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole from scratch without any canned soups!
This Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole has it all – it’s creamy, cheesy, hearty, comforting casserole perfection the whole family will love! It’s made with juicy, tender chicken, tender crisp broccoli and textural rice enveloped in a luscious, creamy, cheese sauce all topped with golden crispy panko. This chicken broccoli and rice casserole is perfect for all those busy nights because you can prep it entirely ahead of time and just pop it in the oven at dinner OR freeze for later! You can make the recipe as written or customize it with all sort of add-ins such as mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, etc.
Chicken and rice are a match made in heaven! Don’t miss my other chicken and rice recipes: One Pot Creamy Chicken and Rice, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, Greek Chicken Risotto, Mexican Chicken and Rice, Teriyaki Chicken and Pineapple Rice, Arroz con Pollo and Salsa Verde Chicken and Rice Bake.
What is Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole?
Did you grow up on chicken broccoli rice casserole?! It’s the cousin of my favorite chicken divan casserole but it includes the chicken, broccoli and rice altogether along with carrots and bell peppers. This translates into juicy, succulent chicken, tender crisp broccoli, chewy, fluffy rice blanketed in a creamy sauce with crispy buttery panko in every bite AKA intoxicating, satisfying and outrageously delicious.
In fact, as my husband continued to devour the casserole, he repeatedly, emphatically stated, “it’s just so much better with the rice in it; the rice adds so much.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Chicken broccoli rice casserole became extremely popular in America in the 1950s, the era of “cream of soups” and casseroles galore. The first chicken broccoli and rice casserole recipes (and unfortunately many recipes today) were made by combining cooked chicken, steamed broccoli, condensed cream of chicken soup, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese together in a bowl, spreading in a baking dish, topping with more cheese followed by corn flakes, crushed potato chips or crushed Ritz crackers.
These cream of soup versions were a far cry from the 1930’s original chicken and broccoli casseroles made with a Mornay Sauce – a béchamel sauce with shredded or grated Gruyere. So, today, I’m bringing chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole back to the glory days of unprocessed ingredients, to a casserole that’s not overly heavy, bland, and laden with cream soup, but is still delightfully creamy, adeptly seasoned and that celebrates the textures of the ingredients without disguising them.
In fact, in recent years, I’ve loved celebrating the maligned casserole by creating from-scratch versions of the childhood classics without any processed ingredients. Some favorites include hash brown casserole, green bean casserole, chicken stroganoff, beef stroganoff, tuna casserole, King Ranch casserole, one pot chili mac, and homemade mac and cheese – proving casseroles can be glorious!
CHICKEN BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE RECIPE
This from scratch chicken broccoli rice casserole recipe is still rich, but it’s a lightened-up version without the canned soup or mayonnaise that still hits all the right notes – and then some. It is irresistibly creamy, cheesy, comfort food at its most addicting.
WHY you’ll love this chicken broccoli and rice casserole:
- No canned soups! Fall is the season of comforting casseroles galore – but that doesn’t mean they have to be weighed down with mystery canned soups. Instead, this from scratch chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole is made with a simple homemade chicken soup that takes just minutes to whip up and tastes 1000X better than any canned soup versions.
- Flavor. Of course, even with its irresistibly creaminess, it’s easy for chicken broccoli rice casserole recipes to fall into the bland and disappointing category – but not this recipe! This recipe is seasoned to perfection with hints of Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, salty chicken bouillon, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley and both sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheeses.
- Texture. The ratio of chicken to broccoli to rice to sauce creates the perfect saucy bite bursting with texture – no skimping on broccoli or rice in this recipe! The velvety homemade cream of chicken soup swaddles the ingredients without overpowering them.
- Pantry friendly. Best of all, this easy chicken broccoli rice casserole recipe is very pantry friendly. All you need is chicken broth, flour and seasonings to make the sauce so you can skip the canned soups forever.
- Versatile. You can add virtually anything to chicken broccoli and rice casserole. Swap the chicken breasts for rotisserie chicken, add mushrooms and peas, swap the Parmesan for Gruyere or pepper Jack and on and on.
- Make ahead. You will love that this chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole can be made 100% ahead of time, refrigerated for up to two days, then just popped in the oven to bake to glorious cheesy perfection. Winner, winner, easy chicken dinner!
- Freezer friendly. You can also assemble the casserole, freeze, then thaw when you need a comforting fix or easy dinner – or both!
WHAT GOES IN CHICKEN BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE?
- Chicken: I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts but you are welcome to use chicken thighs, leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken.
- Broccoli: I recommend using fresh broccoli. To save a little time, you can purchase bags of broccoli florets, just make sure you chop up any extra-large pieces so the florets are all roughly the same size.
- Rice: Use long grain white rice, brown rice or wild rice for the best texture. If you go the white rice route, I recommend using basmati rice. Not only does basmati boasts a light nutty flavor but basmati grains are long and slender like other white rice varieties but they cook up lighter and fluffier. The individual grains remain distinct when cooked instead of sticking together which means no more mushy rice! Basmati Rice also reheats beautiful because of the distinctive grains.
- Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup: My homemade cream of chicken soup is epic. It starts with a roux then you whisk in chicken broth, and milk whisked with cornstarch to create a wonderfully thick sauce. You want the sauce to seem a little on the thick side because it will thin out some in the oven. To this luscious sauce, we stir in chicken bouillon, Dijon, Worcestershire sauce onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, ground cumin, and pepper. It is velvety, seasoned bliss.
- Cheese. I use freshly grated Parmesan for its salty bite and cheddar for it is sharp richness. Please only use freshly grated cheeses because the pre-shredded varieties don’t melt nearly as well – especially Parmesan.
- Sour Cream. Sour cream is a must in my book for the slightly tangy classic chicken broccoli rice casserole taste. I use ½ cup but you are welcome to use even more. Full fat sour cream melts easier than nonfat, but you can certainly use nonfat with this knowledge. For full disclosure, I have not tried this recipe with Greek Yogurt.
- Panko. Don’t skip the panko crunch, it is one of my favorite parts! Panko is a style of Japanese bread crumbs that is fluffier and bakes up much crispier than bread crumbs. It is located with the other breadcrumbs at the grocery store. I used Italian style panko (meaning it is seasoned with Italian seasoning), but you can use plain panko as well.
Can I use Rotisserie Chicken?
Absolutely! Rotisserie chicken is an easy, delicious shortcut in chicken broccoli rice casserole. Rotisserie chicken is a mixture of both light and dark meat so it’s wonderfully juicy and flavorful. To use rotisserie chicken, shred the chicken, discarding the bones and add about 3 cups shredded chicken when you combine the vegetables with the sauce. Rotisserie chicken comes lightly seasoned so skip the chicken seasonings in the recipe.
Can I use Frozen Broccoli?
I don’t recommend frozen broccoli because it has a tendency to end up watery and mushy instead of tender. If you still decide to go the frozen broccoli route, make sure you thaw it out completely then pat it dry. You don’t want any extra moisture added to the casserole. Also, if using frozen broccoli, don’t add the broccoli to the chicken/broccoli mixture to steam because frozen broccoli is already blanched so it doesn’t need to be cooked again unless you prefer extra soft broccoli.
Can I use Minute Rice?
No, you want a rice that will remain chewy and add textural diversity to the casserole and not become lost. Minute rice or short grain rice will become mushy/sticky and will not hold up well. As previously discussed, basmati rice, brown rice or wild rice deliver the best results.
DO I HAVE TO USE BOUILLON?
Please do not skip the bouillon! It is the secret ingredient that infuses the sauce with the characteristic chicken flavor. It is essentially dehydrated vegetables, meat stock, a small portion of fat, salt, and seasonings AKA it is salt with flavor! You can use chicken bouillon, bouillon powder or better than bouillon – all in equal amounts. If you are using bouillon cubes, just mash them up a bit before you add them to the sauce – don’t dissolve in water first
What Size Baking Dish Do I Need? Can I halve this recipe?
This casserole recipe fits comfortably into a 9×13 baking dish or you can add it to two 8×8 baking dishes and eat one now and freeze one for later (or gift it to a neighbor). You can also halve the recipe and bake it in an 8×8 baking dish.
HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN BROCCOLI AND RICE CASSEROLE
Step 1 – Season Chicken: Chop your chicken into bite size pieces then season them with salt and pepper while still on the cutting board. Make sure you dab your chicken of excess moisture before adding the seasonings so the seasonings stick well and so your chicken will sear instead of just steam – this is especially true if you are using frozen, thawed chicken which will release excess moisture.
Step 2 – Sauté Vegetables: Sauté onions, carrots and bell peppers for 5 minutes in a large skillet then add your seasoned chicken and cook just until opaque. You don’t want the chicken to be cooked through at this point because it continues to bake in the oven.
Step 3 – Steam Broccoli: Next, layer broccoli on top of vegetables, add some chicken broth and cover. Steam the broccoli until tender but not limp, about 2-3 minutes. If you like your broccoli on the softer, more fall-apart side, then steam longer. Also, I’ve found fresh broccoli will take longer to steam than broccoli that’s been sitting in the fridge for longer. Once your broccoli reaches desired crisp-tenderness, transfer the veggie mixture to a large bowl.
Step 4 – Make Sauce: To the same skillet, melt some butter with olive oil then whisk in flour to make a roux. Turn heat to low then gradually whisk in chicken broth, milk Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, chicken bouillon and all spices/seasonings. Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking often until thickened.
Remove from heat and whisk in ½ cup sharp cheese until melted followed by Parmesan cheese until melted. Whisk in sour cream until blended.
Step 5 – Combine: Add veggies/chicken to the sauce if your pan is large enough, otherwise pour sauce over the veggies/chicken in the bowl and stir to combine. Fold in rice.
Step 6 – Assemble: Transfer to the prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer. Top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese and panko.
Step 7 – Bake: Cover casserole with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese is melted.
HOW TO MAKE EXTRA CRISPY PANKO TOPPING
You are welcome to add your panko to the top of your chicken broccoli rice casserole and bake per instructions and then broil, but the end result always leaves me wanting crispier panko.
To get the ULITMATE buttery, crispy panko topping, I use the technique I use in my Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese – because it is million dollar delicious.
First, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add panko and stir to coat. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown. This will give you the most spectacular crispy panko once baked on top of you chicken broccoli and rice casserole every time.
Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole Toppings Customizations
There is really no right or wrong way to top this chicken broccoli rice casserole – as long as it boasts a buttery crunch! In fact, one of the easiest ways to customize this casserole is with the topping. My favorite is the panko topping because it stays the crunchiest but some of the other toppings boast more buttery flavor – also yum. Here are a few popular topping ideas:
- Ritz crackers: combine 1 sleeve crushed Ritz with ¼ cup melted butter and stir to combine. Sprinkle mixture over the casserole and bake as instructed. You may need to reduce the salt in the recipe if using Ritz crackers because they are pretty salty.
- Cornflakes: combine 2 cups crushed cornflakes with ¼ cup melted butter and stir to combine. Sprinkle mixture over the casserole and bake as instructed. Take care to gently crush the corn flakes – you don’t want tiny crumbs, but larger pieces so there’s more crunch.
- Potato chips: crumble desired amount of potato chips over the casserole and bake as instructed. You can even get fun and flirty and use different flavored chips such as salt-and-vinegar, onion or jalapeno, etc. Again, you may need to reduce the salt in the recipe if using potato chips because they are pretty salty.
- French fried onions: make homemade fried onions like in my green bean casserole recipe or store bought.
CHICKEN BROCCOLI CHEESE RICE CASSEROLE VARIATIONS
You can adapt this chicken broccoli rice casserole recipe to make other chicken casserole recipes:
- Veggies: swap the broccoli out for other veggies such as asparagus, zucchini cauliflower, green beans or peas, or add other veggies in addition to the broccoli such as mushrooms.
- Cheeses: mix up the cheeses with any other favorite melting cheeses to create a different flavor profile such as Gruyere, Asiago, Gouda, smoked cheddar, Monterrey, Pepper Jack, Havarti, Colby etc.,
- Seasonings: you can swap the seasonings out for Mexican spices or Cajun spices to mix things up. If going Mexican, consider adding green chilies, jalapenos and chorizo.
- Protein: swap the chicken for cooked Italian sausage, ground beef, ground turkey, chorizo, or cubed ham.
- Other Add Ins: jalapenos, pickled jalapenos, artichokes, green chiles, pimientos, olives, roasted bell peppers, etc. add a fun variety.
- Gluten-free: to make this chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole recipe gluten free, use your favorite gluten free flour in the roux; the rest of the ingredients should be gluten free. Of course, you’ll want to double check the labels of the Worcestershire and Dijon.
- Low carb: omit the rice and swap it for extra broccoli and chicken or 2 cups quinoa, cauliflower rice, or your favorite vegetables.
TIPS FOR chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole
This chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole is pretty straightforward, but here is a summary of tips and tricks for a smashing success every time:
- Use small pieces of broccoli. Make sure to cut your broccoli florets into smaller pieces so they will steam in 2-3 minutes, otherwise your broccoli won’t cook in time.
- Steam broccoli to desired texture. Some people like crisp-tender broccoli in the casserole, some prefer soft, falling apart broccoli. Your desired texture will affect how long you steam the broccoli. At the end of steaming, your broccoli should be pretty close to the texture you would like it after baking. It will soften some in the oven, but not dramatically.
- Cook rice al dente. As previously discussed, I recommend basmati rice, brown rice or wild rice for the best texture, but no matter what rice you choose, make sure it isn’t overcooked before adding it to the casserole otherwise it will become mushy. So, if you usually cook your rice for 15 minutes, cook it for 10 minutes instead.
- Shred the cheese yourself. Quality, hand shredded cheeses will taste far superior and melt beautifully for a silkier sauce. Do not use pre-bagged cheeses for sauces or your destined for grainy/gritty sauce failure. Pre-bagged cheese is coated in anti-clumping chemicals designed to prevent the cheese from clumping in the bag; these same chemicals prevent your cheese from melting gorgeously. Also, low-fat cheeses will also not melt as well.
- Use multiple cheeses. For the best flavor, use both sharp cheddar for its intense cheesy flavor and Parmesan for its salt bite.
- Cook flour for two minutes. Two minutes can seem like a long time but don’t cut it short – you want to make sure to cook out the raw flour taste.
- More or less cheese. You can use as little or a much cheese as your heart desires. 2 cups total is fabulous and more cheese would be a decadent dream. If you’re trying to save calories, you can use less cheese and it will still taste creamy, just not as cheesy.
- Adjust to taste. I have found that this chicken broccoli and rice casserole needs additional salt at the end of cooking. That being said, I wanted to be cautious about adding additional salt to the actual casserole in case some readers use a salty Ritz cracker topping. So, if your casserole is missing something, it is probably salt, so salt and/or pepper to taste until it tastes divinely delicious.
make ahead CHICKEN BROCCOLI and RICE CASSEROLE
Chicken broccoli and rice casserole is the PREFECT make ahead meal. Simply assemble the casserole according to recipe instructions but don’t add the panko topping. You can prepare the topping ahead of time, but store it in a separate airtight container at room temperature. Cover the casserole with foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
When ready to bake, let the casserole sit on the counter while the oven preheats. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F or until heated through and bubbly around the edges.
HOW TO STORE & REHEAT CHICKEN BROCCOLI CHEESE RICE CASSEROLE
- Storage: store casserole tightly covered or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Oven: bake, covered, at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- Microwave: transfer individual serving to a microwave safe plate and heat for 90 seconds, then at 30 second intervals as needed until heated through.
how to freeze CHICKEN BROCCOLI cheese RICE CASSEROLE
This chicken broccoli cheese rice casserole freezes very well. You can make specifically to freezer or double the batch so you can serve one casserole for dinner now and have one for later.
- Make and assemble according to directions up to the point of baking. You can add the panko if you want the casserole 100% assembled OR for crispier panko, toast and add it right before baking.
- Let casserole cool completely (not from baking but from the warm sauce).
- Double wrap the casserole securely with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil.
- Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to eat, thaw the casserole in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours until completely thawed, then let it sit at room temperature while your oven preheats. If you’ve frozen the casserole in a glass dish, let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes because glass can shatter with abrupt temperature changes.
- Add the panko topping and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI CASSEROLE?
This chicken broccoli and rice casserole is practically a meal-in-one with protein, vegetables and carbs. Still, we love to serve it with a big green salad, crusty bread and fruit. If you want some additional side options, it would be wonderful with my Perfect Fruit Salad or Winter Fruit Salad, Apple Salad, Fall Salad, Fluffy Dinner Rolls or Garlic Bread.
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