Cheesy Broccoli, Chicken and Rice Casserole — Down-Home Comfort

Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole

Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole

Virginia Willis' Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole for FoodNetwork.com

Photo by: Virginia Willis ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Virginia Willis, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Somewhere along the way when women were being “liberated” from the kitchen, processed and convenience foods became dinner du jour. One-pot casseroles became a go-to for many busy moms and families. One of my favorites growing up was Broccoli, Chicken and Rice Casserole. What’s not to love? It’s filling chicken and rice with creamy gravy, topped with cheese. It’s real down-home comfort.

Most often this indulgent casserole is made with frozen broccoli and a couple of familiar red-and-white cans of cream of mushroom soup. This version is made with fresh, wholesome ingredients. It takes just a smidgen more time, but the results are absolutely extraordinary. I’m pretty adamant that down-home comfort can be made without bags and boxes.

The truth of the matter is that all too often those shortcuts aren’t really timesavers and they are packed with salt and food additives. I personally really like recipes with ingredients that you can pronounce and don’t need a degree in chemistry to decipher. That gives me a very deep, satisfying feeling of comfort.

Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole

Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole

Virginia Willis' Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole for FoodNetwork.com

Photo by: Virginia Willis ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Virginia Willis, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

The technique that I am using is to make a roux, then a modified bechamel sauce. A bechamel is one of the French five “mother sauces.” French chef Antonin Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were each classified under one of five “mother sauces”: bechamel, veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise and tomate. Bechamel is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a butter-flour roux. In this instance, we’re increasing the savory flavor by adding a bit of stock to replace some of the milk.

Regardless of the liquid, the thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk. The proportions for a thin sauce are 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour per 1 cup of milk; a medium sauce uses 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour; a thick sauce, 3 tablespoons each. A thick bechamel is the base for a savory souffle. Bechamel is one of the most useful sauces, and it is exactly what that red and white can grew to replace.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

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Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.

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