Friday, March 2, 2012

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

One of my favorite meals while growing up was this cozy casserole.  I'm pretty sure I requested it for almost every birthday as a child, except for the ones where I wanted chicken a la king.  I loved chicken.  I loved broccoli.  I couldn't think of a better way to eat them than nestled together on a bed of rice, under a delicious creamy sauce.  At least, that's how I'd describe it now.  As a ten-year-old, I probably just called it "yummy."

The original recipe is my grandmother's.  She called it "classic chicken divan," which always made me think of elegant ladies swooning on fancy couches.  (We just called it "chicken and broccoli.")  Somewhere along the way, my mom started adding the rice and some extra seasonings; I've doctored up the recipe a bit myself.  The sauce is a delicious homemade version of cream of chicken soup; it's much better than the stuff that comes in a can.  You can use cooked chicken (yay for Brakebush!) or turkey.  My mom always parboiled chicken leg quarters and tore it into bite-size pieces by hand, which I think is the best option, but this time I used grilled Brakebush chicken and some leftover cooked turkey.  I would recommend tearing up the chicken by hand, rather than cubing it with a knife--it gives you more control over removing bits of fat and gristle.

As for the broccoli, either fresh or frozen works--whatever you use, cook it before adding it to the casserole.  Fresh broccoli can be steamed or microwaved, but don't overcook it, or you will end up with a mushy, unappetizing blob.

Since there are quite a few steps to this recipe (cooking the rice and broccoli, preparing the chicken, making the sauce), it helps to make the individual components ahead of time.  You can also assemble the entire casserole and pop it in the refrigerator until needed; just increase baking time by 5-10 minutes to make sure it heats through.

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
Time:  60 minutes
Serves 6-8 (but this recipe is easy to halve since everything is from scratch)

2 bunches (about 1 1/4 pounds) fresh broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (stems included) OR two 10-oz. packages frozen broccoli
2 cups uncooked rice
1 T. olive oil
1/4 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half OR milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of black pepper, cayenne pepper, and curry powder
4 cups cooked chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
dash paprika

Cook rice.  Meanwhile, cook broccoli until just tender-crisp; drain.  In a small pan, combine olive oil, onion, and garlic; saute until tender (do not preheat oil, or the garlic will burn).  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter; whisk in flour.  Slowly add broth, whisking until smooth (be careful of the hot steam!).  Cook until thick, stirring occasionally.  Slowly stir in cream; add salt, pepper, cayenne, curry powder, and onion mixture.  Remove from heat.

Spread rice in bottom of a greased 9x13 casserole or pan.  (You can also keep the rice separate and serve it with the casserole at the table.)  Add broccoli to casserole in an even layer.  Pour half of sauce over broccoli.  Top with chicken.  Add cheese to remaining sauce and pour over chicken.  Sprinkle with extra cheese and a dash of paprika.  Bake, uncovered, at 350F for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.  (If using a metal pan, you can also broil the casserole for the last 5 minutes to brown it.)

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