Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

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This Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole has a shortcut for cooking the rice and broccoli quickly–and that makes this dish come together efficiently and easily. This classic casserole is “reinvented” with a homemade creamy cheese sauce that is prepared from scratch (no cream of “x” soups required) and then accented with a crunchy topping.

Serve this dish alongside this fruit salad recipe, an easy Italian salad, or this simple cucumber salad.

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

While I’m not someone that typically craves casseroles, this recipe is the exception. Growing up, my mom made a chicken poppy seed casserole frequently and our family loved it. It was certainly one of my favorite meals she made (along with this cheesy tuna pasta!)

Her version included rice, chicken, broccoli, and cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup. While I have nothing against the cream of chicken/mushroom soup, it’s not my favorite ingredient to use. So, I wanted to reinvent the casserole with a from-scratch sauce. And honestly, it’s a game changer for this casserole! It’s creamy, cheesy, and deeply savory. And the best part is, this casserole doesn’t take too much longer than the cream of soup casserole counterparts. And you can feel confident that you know the ingredients going into this meal.

Thanks to a few other time-saving casserole shortcuts that I’ll share in this post, you’ll have this casserole assembled in 30 minutes or less!

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole Short-cuts

  • Boiling the rice and broccoli together. This is the shortcut I’m most excited about sharing with you. Did you know you could get beautiful, fluffy, fully cooked rice in under 10 minutes? And the broccoli can cook right alongside it?! This kind of kitchen wizardry is definitely something to get excited about. A few notes:
    • Make sure to use basmati rice. Unfortunately, other types of rice won’t work the same in this shortcut.
    • Wait for the water to be at a full rolling boil before adding the rice
    • Check the rice for tenderness at 5 minutes. If it’s not fully tender, add 1 more minute before draining
    • Generously salt the water. This ensures the rice and broccoli are well seasoned so the entire casserole doesn’t taste under-seasoned. As a general rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon of salt to every 4 cups of water.
  • Using rotisserie chicken. Pre-cooked and seasoned chicken is a total time saver on its own, but to save even more time on the chicken, you can purchase rotisserie chicken meat already pulled from the bones and shredded or diced — many grocery stores sell this conveniently prepared chicken! Alternatively, you can use leftover grilled chicken in this casserole.
  • Opting for garlic powder and onion powder. Instead of spending the time chopping, mincing, and sautéing these aromatics, we use the powdered alternatives.

QUICK TIP

What is basmati rice? Basmati has a longer grain than standard white rice, and it has a wonderful nutty aroma and flavor. Just like regular rice, basmati can be brown or white, depending on how it is processed. Use white basmati rice in this recipe; brown basmati has a longer cooking time. 

Process shots-- images of the ingredients being layered into the casserole dish

Let’s chat cheese sauce

As I mentioned earlier, the cheese sauce is made from scratch, and once you try it, you won’t want this casserole any other way! 

Below is a break-down of the ingredients as well as some ingredient tips:

  • Unsalted butter. I recommend unsalted, so we can have complete control over the overall flavor (amount of salt) in this casserole.
  • Flour. The flour is what thickens the sauce; take the time to thoroughly cook the flour in the butter to remove the “raw” flour taste and add more flavor.
  • Milk. I use 1% milk to keep the sauce on the lighter side; use 2% or whole milk for a creamier casserole. I don’t recommend skim milk or plant-based milk alternatives — they lack the creaminess and flavor.
  • Chicken stock. A good stock adds loads of flavor without requiring tons of extra seasonings; I love and recommend Swanson’s® chicken stock (not sponsored).
  • Extra-sharp Cheddar cheese. Extra-sharp or sharp Cheddar has a much more robust flavor than regular Cheddar cheese. See the “quick tip” box below for more on this.
  • Sour cream. Again, to keep the sauce on the lighter side, I use light (or fat-free) sour cream. We didn’t notice a flavor difference here! Of course, full-fat sour cream will work too!
  • Dijon mustard. We love the tang that Dijon mustard adds, but if you don’t share the love of Dijon, you won’t likely love it here. Feel free to reduce or leave it out.
  • Seasonings. Chicken bouillon powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried parsley all contribute lots of flavor to the sauce.
  • Poppy seeds. You can’t have a Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole without poppy seeds! The poppy seeds add a subtle flavor and crunch! The casserole will still be fine without this addition if you’d prefer to leave it out.

QUICK TIP

What’s the difference between mild and sharp Cheddars? Aging! The longer cheese is naturally aged, the more pronounced and sharper the Cheddar flavor becomes. Extra-sharp Cheddar cheese might be aged as long as a year whereas mild Cheddar is generally aged for only 2-3 months. I also recommend freshly grated cheese in this recipe.  Pre-grated cheese has a cellulose coating that results in a greasier/clumpier cheese topping that can turn grainy.

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole Crunchy Topping

The last element of this amazing Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole is the crunchy topping! Don’t worry — it’s easy and only requires two ingredients! 

  • Panko bread crumbs are similar to regular bread crumbs, but they create a much crunchier result. Here’s an article to explain it further. You can typically find panko in the Japanese cuisine section of your store or near regular breadcrumbs.
  • Unsalted butter is used to toast the panko crumbs until nice and golden brown and crunchy!

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Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

5 from 3 votes
This Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole has a shortcut for cooking the rice and broccoli quickly--and that makes this dish come together efficiently and easily. This classic casserole is "reinvented" with a homemade creamy cheese sauce that is prepared from scratch (no cream of "x" soups required) and then accented with a crunchy topping.
Print Recipe

Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole

5 from 3 votes
This Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole has a shortcut for cooking the rice and broccoli quickly--and that makes this dish come together efficiently and easily. This classic casserole is "reinvented" with a homemade creamy cheese sauce that is prepared from scratch (no cream of "x" soups required) and then accented with a crunchy topping.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chicken casserole, Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole, Chicken Poppyseed Casserole, Poppy Seed Casserole, poppy seeds, poppyseed casserole
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 8 servings
Calories 545kcal
Author Chelsea Lords
Cost $14.12

Ingredients

  • 4 heaping cups fresh broccoli, cut into small pieces (2 florets; about 11 ounces)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups white basmati rice (other varieties of rice don't work here)
  • 3 cups rotisserie chicken pieces cut into small cubes
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup low-fat 1% milk Note 1
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth (we like Swanson chicken stock best)
  • 2 cups extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, freshly grated, divided
  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream (or regular sour cream)
  • 3 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard Note 2
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons EACH: garlic powder, onion powder, and dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Topping

  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs Note 3
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions

  • BROCCOLI AND RICE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place basmati rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse in cold water for 2-3 minutes or until water runs clear. Set aside. Bring a very large pot of water to boil. Generously salt the water. (I add 1 teaspoon of salt to every 4 cups of water.) Once boiling, add in bite-sized chopped broccoli and boil for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, pull out the broccoli and set it aside to completely dry. (I put it on paper towels.) Return the water to a full rolling boil and then add in the rinsed basmati rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, for exactly 5 minutes (do not reduce temperature). Taste to ensure the rice is tender; if not continue to cook one more minute. Drain the rice in a fine-mesh sieve. Pour the rice in an even layer on the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Add the broccoli on top of rice as soon as it's completely dried. (Wet broccoli will water down the sauce.)
  • CHICKEN: Chop the chicken to get 3 cups. Add right on top of broccoli and rice.
  • SAUCE: Melt butter in a small pot over medium heat. Once melted, gradually add in flour while whisking constantly to form a thick paste. Whisk for one minute and then gradually add in 1/2 cup of the milk, continuing to whisk constantly. Gradually add 1/2 cup chicken stock or broth while whisking constantly. Add in another 1/2 cup milk, then the remaining 1/2 cup stock, and the last remaining 1/2 cup milk. Whisk until completely smooth. Add in 1 and 1/2 cups of cheese and whisk again until completely smooth. Add in sour cream and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chicken bouillon powder, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. (I add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; add to taste preference.) Stir in the poppy seeds.
  • ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Pour the sauce over everything and spread to evenly coat. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over top of the sauce. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the panko and toast it, stirring constantly, until it's a light brown. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cheese. Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly around the edges. Remove and serve hot.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Milk: I use 1% milk to keep the sauce on the lighter side; use 2% or whole milk for a creamier casserole. I don't recommend skim milk or plant-based milk alternatives -- the result lacks creaminess and flavor.
Note 2: Dijon: We love the tang that Dijon mustard adds, but if you don't love dijon, you won't likely love it here. Feel free to reduce or leave it out.
Note 3: Panko: You can also use crushed Ritz® crackers. Panko bread crumbs are similar to regular bread crumbs, but they create a much crunchier result. You can usually find panko in the Japanese cuisine section of your store or near regular breadcrumbs.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 545kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 103mg | Sodium: 572mg | Potassium: 497mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1014IU | Vitamin C: 41mg | Calcium: 364mg | Iron: 2mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi – I was wondering if this could be made without the poppyseeds, and if so, what you’d sub for it.
    It looks yummy, I just hate buying ingredients that I don’t use regularly.
    Thanks!

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