If you’re looking for comfort food then this Cheesy Chicken Casserole is the recipe for you – it’s easy, homemade and was a huge hit with my family.
This post is sponsored by Challenge Dairy. Their salted butter is the perfect butter to use in the cheese sauce and in the crunchy crumbly topping on the casserole. All opinions are my own.
Sometimes you just need a nice comfort food casserole to make the day better, don’t you agree? This dish is full of comfort foods: cheese, pasta, and buttery crumble topping.
Whether you’re making a casserole for a friend, hosting a family dinner, or just craving something like macaroni and cheese, this chicken casserole is the one for you.
You’ll love this because:
- It’s got a homemade cheese sauce
- You can use leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken
- A crunchy topping that is the best part!
Table of Contents
Best ingredients for Chicken Casserole
When you’re making this casserole you have lots of options for things you can put inside, but the basic ingredients are:
- A roux made with Challenge butter and flour
- A cheese sauce that’s not too heavy, thanks to the use of chicken stock
- Diced chicken from leftover chicken breasts
- Frozen peas
- A crunchy topping made with crushed crackers and more melted Challenge Butter
When you’re making a homemade cheese sauce or crumbly topping for a casserole, you want to use good butter, because the taste of the butter affects the outcome of the dish. That’s why I always use Challenge Butter when I’m cooking and baking.
Best butter for cooking
While I use Challenge Unsalted Butter for baking (their unsalted butter is actually award winning!) I used their regular salted butter in this recipe. I always bake with unsalted and cook with salted!
The yellow Challenge Butter box brings back so many memories for me: my dad adores Challenge. You may already know that it’s the only butter I ate growing up and it’s the only one my parents still buy.
In fact, they told me a funny story a few months ago: a friend of theirs in Oregon had never tried Challenge, so they gave them a box and now Challenge Butter is the only one they’ll buy too. It’s that good!
Challenge has been churned fresh daily since 1911! It comes from the freshest cows at family-owned dairies and it’s got no hormones, additives or fillers (they were the first brand to enforce raising cows without growth hormones). It’s a cooperative of more than 400 California owned dairies and is available nationwide.
How to make Cheesy Chicken Casserole
You start off this recipe by making a cheese sauce. Here are some tips for making a roux like this, if you’ve never done it:
- Melt your butter before adding the flour to the pan.
- Use a whisk to incorporate the flour into the butter so there are no lumps.
- Cook the flour mixture for about a minute to get rid of the “flour” taste
- Add the milk and stock into the cooked flour while whisking to avoid lumps
- Stir with a wooden spoon – constantly – until the mixture becomes thick and starts to bubble.
Once you have the thick sauce, you add the cheese and stir until it’s melted. Then stir in cooked pasta, cooked chicken, and frozen peas.
The casserole fits perfectly into a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Making the Crunchy Topping
I love topping chicken casseroles with a crunchy topping, and this is my favorite one!
Simply stir together melted Challenge Butter with crushed butter crackers and then sprinkle it all over the top of the casserole. The crumble topping is of course optional, but adds a nice flavor and crunch to the finished dish.
Baking Chicken Casserole
The casserole is all cooked when it’s assembled – and you could eat it as a one pot dish on the stove – but once you add that crumble topping you need to bake it to crisp it up.
Simply bake the casserole until it’s bubbly and the topping is browning.
One thing I love about this recipe is that you can change it up in SO many ways. Basically once you have this recipe you have about 10 others you can make that are totally different!
- Use leftover chicken OR rotisserie chicken. This would also be great for leftover turkey after the holidays. Or – you could even use diced leftover ham.
- I love using peas, but you can also use frozen broccoli florets, cut green beans, mixed vegetables or any frozen vegetable you like.
- Make the cheese sauce with a combination of your favorite cheeses: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, mozzarella – even gouda would be good!
- You can use any shape pasta you like. I have also made this with elbows!
- The topping can be made with crushed cornflakes or Panko breadcrumbs in place of the crackers.
Just don’t substitute the Challenge Butter! That’s a given – unless you want to use unsalted butter, in which case you should taste the cheese sauce and add salt as desired before mixing up the casserole!
Storing and Baking Ahead
Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
You can make this ahead – make the casserole up to 24 hours ahead – add the topping just before baking.
Other favorite recipes that use butter:
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Cheesy Chicken Casserole Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups about 30 crushed butter crackers
- 4 tablespoons Challenge Butter
- Spray a 9×13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cook pasta according to package directions, but cook it the least amount of time (i.e. if the package says cook 10-12 minutes, cook it for only 10 minutes, or until it’s slightly al dente). Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or pot, melt 4 tablespoons Challenge Butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute, then whisk in stock and milk until no lumps remain. Whisk in spices.
- Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and stir almost continuously until the mixture thickens. This will take a few minutes, and will happen just as the mixture starts to simmer. Add in the cheese and stir until it’s melted through then remove the mixture from the heat.
- Stir in the chicken, peas and pasta. Pour into prepared pan.
- Make the topping: melt 4 tablespoons Challenge Butter. Pour over crushed crackers in a small bowl and stir with a fork to moisten all the crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over casserole.
- Bake 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly around the edges and the crackers have browned a bit.
- Serve hot. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Substitute frozen broccoli florets or cut green beans in place of the peas.
- You can use rotisserie chicken, or make a big batch of my oven roasted chicken or instant pot shredded chicken one day and use leftovers in this casserole.
- Change up the cheese by doing a mix of Monterey Jack and Cheddar or mix and match your favorite cheeses.
- Substitute crushed cornflakes or panko breadcrumbs for the cracker topping.
Nutritional information not guaranteed to be accurate
Easy Cheesy Chicken Casserole with pasta and peas is such a delicious comfort food meal! This recipe for dinner has a Ritz cracker topping and can be made with broccoli! It is one of our favorite meals!!
All text and images © DOROTHY KERN for Crazy for Crust. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe. Disclaimer: Nutrition information shown is not guaranteed to be accurate.
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Published on: August 20, 2020