A modern remake of my mom’s classic casserole, this rendition of a childhood favorite is lighter but still delivers the memorable flavor. There’s even a crunchy topping, an option for extra veggies, and excellent alternatives for some dietary restrictions. (And Mom approves!)
Who doesn’t love a comforting chicken and rice casserole? If there’s a recipe that takes me right back to my family dinner table as a girl, this is it.
I adored my mom’s chicken and rice, which was a regular on the weekly meal rotation. Looking back on the ingredients, however, we all agreed that my readers might prefer a modern remake!
To truly deliver, I needed to balance the classic casserole’s creamy texture and decadent flavor with a lighter touch. The following recipe does just that, maintaining the comfort and nostalgia with a fraction of the calories and sodium of the original.
To enhance the textural appeal, I even adding a crunchy topping. For those who like to squeeze in extra vegetables, there are several options in that department, too.
My friend and neighbor, Alissa, inspired me to get to work on this recipe. She’s a great cook, and food is often a topic of conversation on our weekly, early morning walks. Her family enjoys a good chicken and rice casserole, and she was also looking for an update to her decades-old rendition.
Above all, casseroles are meant to be convenient. As such, a good recipe should have minimal steps and built-in flexibility, right?
Many chicken and rice casseroles call for adding cooked chicken, but this is supposed to be easy. No need to cook this chicken first. While you do need to prepare the rice in advance, you could do this earlier in the day if desired.
My mom used to make this casserole with whole chicken breasts, initially with bone-in, skin-on chicken and later with boneless breasts. I’ve used the latter and have also made the dish with chicken tenders, but we now prefer bite-size pieces. Smaller pieces mean no knife is needed to enjoy the meal and there’s more flavor in every bite!
Because several of the ingredients that go into the casserole contain wheat, I tested gluten-free alternatives to the popular brands and have included my favorites (which are widely available) in the recipe card.
I often serve the casserole with a roasted green vegetable like Brussels sprouts, green beans, or broccoli, or a salad like Easiest Arugula Salad. To ramp up the veggies within the casserole, however, cooked broccoli may also be added with the chicken. Leftover roasted or steamed broccoli is fair game, and frozen may be used if it is first thawed and squeezed of its excess liquid. Two cups is about the right amount.
Depending on personal preference, I think roasted red peppers, roasted cauliflower, peas, or even cooked zucchini would be nice additions as well.
Mushrooms happen to be my husband’s and my favorite upgrade, although I list them as an option as I know not everyone is a fan. To avoid the added step of having to sauté them first, I simply mix them with the topping ingredients.
That way, the mushrooms become lightly coated with olive oil and then rest on the surface or the casserole, where they roast in the heat of the oven. In families where some are on Team Mushroom, so to speak, and others are not, it’s also easy for that latter group to avoid them. This is the case in our house, and I consider it a treat to receive my younger son’s castoffs…and he is equally thrilled!
And how about all those times when you’d like to take dinner to a friend or relative who’s recovering from surgery, had a new baby, or could simply use a helping hand? It can be challenging to think of a dish that offers wide appeal, can be prepared in advance, and travels well. This recipe offers a great option.
If a full 9×13 casserole seems like too much (although leftovers are delicious!), you could divide the ingredients between two 8-inch square baking pans or two 9-inch pie plates. That way, you can keep one and share one, or freeze one for future use.
A few more thoughts…
The crunchy topping adds something special, but you may omit it. In its place, a hearty sprinkle of slivered almonds would likely be quite nice and would add a hint of compensatory crunch. Adding the almonds in the last five minutes or so would allow them to toast without burning. Mushroom fans who wish to forego the stuffing mix may also enjoy doubling the mushrooms. In this case, I’d toss the mushrooms with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat) and a sprinkle of salt and pepper before adding them to the casserole.