Chicken and Rice Casserole
Have you ever had the soup can classic chicken rice casserole? I admit, I have not, though the idea of it intrigued me recently. It sort of reminds me of my mother’s arroz con pollo, but with mushrooms and without tomatoes. With this recipe I set out to make a scratch cooking version of chicken rice casserole, sans the cans, with the goal of extracting as much flavor as I could out of the ingredients. First you will note that we use chicken thighs, instead of the more popular (and more expensive by the way) breasts. The thighs have more flavor, and are a little fattier, meaning they won’t dry out with long cooking. The chicken pieces are browned in olive oil, removed, and then the onions are cooked in the same pan with the chicken browned bits. Then the mushrooms are browned, and the whole pan is deglazed with dry sherry. All goes into a casserole dish with stock, cream, sour cream, herbs, rice, topped with the chicken, and baked in the oven. The rice cooks in the stock, the chicken finishes cooking, and the resulting dish is, as my 10-yr-old nephew says “really good”.
If you are avoiding cooking with alcohol, skip the sherry and deglaze the pan with a 1/4 cup extra of chicken stock.
Depending on how salted your stock is, you may need to more generously salt this dish. Can always salt to taste at the table.
You can make this entire dish on the stovetop instead of the oven if you want. Just use a large sauté pan with a tight cover, cook on low when all is assembled, low enough to keep a simmer, but not so high that you burn the rice.
- 2 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces, patted dry
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 lb cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
- 1 1/3 cups* chicken stock**
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup cream
- 1 cup raw, medium or long grain, white rice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon each of Italian seasoning and poultry seasoning (or 2 teaspoons of one of these herb mixes, or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)**
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
*This recipe assumes the rice requires approx 1 1/2 cups liquid per cup of rice to cook. Some rice varieties, such as brown rice, require more liquid (and a longer cooking time). Adjust recipe accordingly.
**If you are cooking gluten-free, use homemade stock or gluten-free packaged stock, use gluten-free packaged herbs and spices.
1 Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium high or high heat (hot enough to brown but not burn). Sprinkle a dash of salt on the bottom of the pan. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the chicken pieces on two sides, about 1-2 minutes per batch. Add a little more salt to the pan (and more olive oil if needed) after every batch. This will help prevent the chicken from sticking to the pan. Remove chicken pieces and set aside in a bowl. Note that the chicken does not have to be cooked through, only browned.
2 In the same sauté pan add 1 Tbsp olive oil, lower the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 30 seconds more. Remove onions and garlic to a shallow (9 x 13 x 2) casserole dish.
3 Raise heat to medium high, add the sliced mushrooms. Dry sauté them (no need to add butter or oil), allowing the mushrooms to brown lightly, and release some of their moisture. Add the mushrooms to the casserole dish.
4 Add 1/4 cup dry sherry or dry white wine to the pan to deglaze the pan, scraping off the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. (At this point, if you are making ahead, reduce the sherry to 1 Tbsp and pour off into the casserole dish. Refrigerate cooked onions, garlic, mushrooms, and browned chicken pieces until you are ready to make the casserole.) Let the sherry reduce to about 1 Tbsp, then add the chicken stock, and remove from heat. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cream, and the sour cream. Add the raw rice to the casserole dish. Then pour the stock, sherry, cream, sour cream mixture over the rice. Add the Italian and poultry seasonings (or fresh herbs) and paprika to the dish. Stir the rice, onion, mushroom, herb mixture so that they are evenly distributed in the casserole dish.
5 Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture (in a single layer if you can, they will be crowded). Cover the casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil. If the casserole is still too liquidy, let it cook a few minutes more, uncovered, until the excess liquid has evaporated away.
Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.