A classic Southern staple enjoyed everywhere; with pulled apart chunks of chicken, in a sour cream, Parmesan and cream of chicken sauce with crunchy poppy seeds and rich, buttery Ritz cracker topping.
I came across a recipe for this dish in a Southern magazine, although there are many variations of it. People have been bringing Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole to church potlucks and holiday gatherings for years. It's a really delicious tasting dish, and I am always here for anything saucy served over rice.
This recipe doesn't use canned, condensed soup
This casserole dish is part of a long list of condensed soup-based casseroles that started circulating in the 1950's. We still love them all today, and this one is one of the most popular.
Rather than using condensed, canned soup, I wanted to create a from-scratch version using more straight forward ingredients. I'm happy to report that after much experimenting with this recipe, the dish is a spot on replica and you won't be needing that can of condensed soup anymore.
How to make the cream of chicken soup base
Instead of the canned, condensed soup, it's very easy to make that base of the dish from scratch and have it come out tasting just as good.
Saute some finely minced veggies (that basically disappear in the sauce) with butter, and add some flour to the pan to create the roux. This will be what thickens it. The flour mixture will quickly turn into a loose paste, and that's the time to add the stock, vinegar, herbs and seasonings.
Let it simmer for a bit where it will reduce slightly, and the flavors will come together.
Assembling the casserole
Once the thick and creamy base of the sauce has simmered, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the shredded cheese, sour cream, poppy seeds and shredded chicken.
Make the cracker crumb topping
While the cheeses are melting, make the crumb topping.
Crush the crackers in a bag until they are small crumbles. Add them to a bowl with the butter and microwave until the butter is melted. Stir the melted butter with the crackers until they're evenly coated.
Give the sauce another good stir, the cheese should be melted by now and everything should blend together easily.
Pour the contents of the pan into a 13x9 inch casserole dish, or one of similar size. Any shape will do.
Sprinkle the buttery cracker crumbs evenly over the top and bake the casserole at 400 degrees until the edges look golden, toasty, and the casserole is bubbling at the edges.
How to serve it
Chicken poppy seed casserole is best served with steamed rice. It's the traditional way, and in my opinion it's the absolute best.
However, you could also serve it with steamed vegetables or pasta. If you serve it with something other than rice, I'd love to know what you did with it in the comments.
Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole
- 2 baked chicken breasts pulled apart or shredded into pieces
For the Topping
- 1 ½ cups crushed butter crackers
- 4 tbsp butter ½ stick, melted
Cream of Chicken Soup Base
- 4 tbsp butter
- ½ onion minced
- 1 stalk celery minced
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ¼ cup flour
- 32 oz chicken stock
- 1 tsp thyme fresh or dried
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- salt and pepper to taste optional
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Salt and pepper chicken breasts and bake 20-25 minutes until cooked through; pull into pieces.
- In a large skillet, add half stick (4 tablespoons) butter and minced vegetables and saute on medium high heat until softened.
- Add flour and whisk until it forms a paste like consistency and all lumps are gone.
- Pour in stock and thyme and whisk until smooth. Simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.
- Remove skillet from heat and stir in shredded cheese, sour cream and poppy seeds.
- Stir occasionally and let cheeses melt while you work on the crumb topping.
- Crush crackers into crumbs by placing the crackers in a large zip lock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
- In a small bowl, add crushed crackers, and butter; microwave 30-60 seconds until butter is melted and stir to evenly coat the crumbs.
- Pour skillet into a 13x9 inch casserole dish.
- Sprinkle buttery cracker crumbs evenly over the top.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- Bake chicken breasts before hand and pull them apart into chunks, or use leftover rotisserie chicken or other chicken to equal 2 cups.
- You can substitute a similar sharp cheese for the Parmesan cheese.
- Use fresh or dried herbs.
- If you make the sauce base in an oven-safe skillet such as a cast iron skillet, then you can use that to bake the casserole in without having to pour it into a separate casserole dish.
- Best served with steamed white rice but can substitute veggies, brown rice or noodles.