This ChickenPoppy SeedCasserole 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.
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.
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.