Chicken wild rice casserole with toasted almonds on top is a cozy make ahead dinner. This big batch recipe can serve a crowd for a big family dinner or be split into two baking pans, one for now and one to freeze for later or bring to a friend.
As we head towards the holiday season, you may find yourself hosting big family dinners as people come to visit.
Since the end of the year is so busy, it's always nice to have a make ahead dinner you've prepped for the freezer that you can pull out when you've got a hectic week.
This delicious chicken wild rice casserole is one of my latest favorites. I prepped it and then split the recipe into two baking dishes -- one for now, one for later. It's a perfect meal train dinner for this reason, too!
Creamy chicken filling is loaded with fresh celery and onions for flavor and texture. It is then topped with golden brown breadcrumbs and crispy toasted almonds for crunch.
My whole family loved this so much, it will definitely be made again before the holidays are in full swing.
Why This is the Best Recipe
I love how easy it is to serve a chicken casserole for my family dinner but I think this is the best chicken wild rice casserole recipe because:
- Big Batch: This recipe makes enough casserole to feed a crowd or to split into two baking pans so you can freeze one for later. It might look like a lot of food at first, but all your work is done ahead to save time later.
- Make Ahead Friendly: You can prep this casserole on the weekend and save it for a weeknight dinner later in the week right in the fridge or freeze it for months later.
- Freezer Friendly: The casserole will keep for up to 6 months.
- Creamy Cozy Comfort Food: When I served it to my family, they all said it tasted like Thanksgiving to them, they just loved it. It's probably because of the fresh celery, onions, and seasonings I used.
This creamy chicken casserole has an easy list of ingredients you'll need to make it. At first glance, the list may look long but most of it is probably in your fridge or pantry right now:
- Cooked Chicken: You can make baked chicken breasts and chop them or use a shredded rotisserie chicken.
- Boxed Wild Rice with Seasoning: I used Ben's Original long grain & wild rice, but any brand of similar product would be fine.
- Cream of Chicken Soup: You can use canned or your favorite substitution.
- Monterey Jack Cheese: I love the flavor of this, but you could also use shredded cheddar if you want more color to the dish.
- Sour Cream
- Fresh Celery
- Fresh Lemon
- Panko Breadcrumbs: You could use Italian seasoned breadcrumbs if you prefer.
- Olive Oil
- Sliced Almonds
- Seasonings: I used a combination of Savory Herb & Vegetable seasoning and cayenne pepper. You could use a combination of thyme, basil, or sage if you don't want to purchase the spice blend. See the notes in my recipe card for more information.
Cook the Wild Rice
To make the casserole prep go as quickly as possible, the first thing to do is get the wild rice boxes cooking according to the package directions.
The wild rice I used took 20 minutes to finish, in that time I was able to prepare the rest of the chicken filling.
Prep the Chicken Filling
While the wild rice is cooking, you can prepare the chicken filling.
In the largest skillet you have, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the chopped celery and onions for 10 minutes or until the onions have softened.
Add the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and milk and stir it together.
Add the lemon juice and seasonings and stir.
Add the chopped chicken and stir.
Once the wild rice is finished cooking, you need to stir it into the creamy chicken filling.
If your skillet is large enough, you could do this step right in the skillet.
Mine wasn't big enough so I scraped everything into a large mixing bowl.
Once the wild rice is evenly combined, add the shredded cheese and stir it together.
You can make one extra-large casserole in a 10 x 15-inch baking dish OR you can split this recipe into two 8 x 11-inch baking dishes.
I chose to split it into two pans so I could bake one for dinner tonight and then freeze the other pan for another meal down the road.
Spray the baking pan with cooking spray and then spoon the chicken filling evenly into the dish.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and olive oil with a fork.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the casserole.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Place the casserole dish on a large baking sheet in case the creamy sauce bubbles over as it bakes.
Bake the casserole for 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly hot and the breadcrumbs are toasted.
Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top and bake for 5 more minutes to warm them through.
NOTE: If your almonds weren't already toasted, you can place them on a separate baking sheet and place them in the oven when you put the casserole in.
Bake them for just 7 - 8 minutes and then take them out so they don't burn. Save them for sprinkling over the top at the end.
Make Ahead Tips
Creamy chicken wild rice casserole is a perfect make ahead recipe.
There are several different short cuts you could use:
- Cook the Chicken in Advance: If you are using fresh chicken breasts, you could bake them in advance and store them in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. I thawed my frozen chicken in the fridge overnight and then just stirred it right into the sauce.
- Cook the Rice in Advance: You could prep the wild rice up to 1 day in advance. With cooked chicken and cooked rice, you'll save yourself some time and dishes.
- Assemble the Chicken Filling: This big recipe makes a lot of casserole. You can store the prepared chicken filling in the fridge for up to 2 days or freeze it for up to 6 months. I baked one pan for dinner the day I assembled the recipe and then baked the second pan another night.
NOTE: Whether you store the prepared casserole in the fridge or you freeze it, do not add the breadcrumbs until just before putting it in the oven to bake.
How to Freeze
If you want to freeze your chicken wild rice casserole for another night, place the creamy chicken filling in a freezer-safe baking dish.
Tightly cover the dish with aluminum foil and label it. Freeze for up to 6 months.
Let the casserole thaw in the fridge overnight.
Cover it with breadcrumbs and then bake as directed.
NOTE: If you want to make this easier to assemble for yourself or for a meal train delivery meal, you can measure the breadcrumbs and store them in a plastic bag and freeze them along with the casserole dish. I tape them right to the aluminum foil so they don't get separated.
I love this version of chicken wild casserole just as it is but there are a few different variations you could easily play with:
Cheddar Cheese Chicken Wild Rice Casserole: Substitute cheddar cheese for the Monterey Jack. You could also sprinkle an additional cup of shredded cheese over the top of the casserole after you add the breadcrumbs and before you add the almonds.
Chicken Wild Rice Casserole with Water Chestnuts: If your family likes extra crunch, you could reduce the celery to 3 stalks and add chopped water chestnuts to the creamy chicken filling.
Nut-Free Chicken Wild Rice Casserole: Omit the almonds for nut sensitivities.
As you can see, the creamy chicken wild rice casserole with toasted almonds is a very delicious golden brown color.
To serve it as part of a family dinner, I strongly recommend adding a green vegetable on the side.
I served it with our favorite air fryer green beans and it was the perfect match.
While my acorn squash with apples is also a golden yellow color, it does have bright red apples and dried cranberries in the mix and the flavors would pair really well with the casserole.
More Casserole Recipes
If you love making casseroles to feed your family or bring to friends, you won't want to miss these other delicious chicken casserole recipes:
Chicken Wild Rice Casserole
For the Chicken Casserole Base
- 2 (6.2 oz) boxes wild rice mix Like Ben's wild rice, prepared according to package directions
- 8 tablespoon (1 stick) butter
- 6 celery ribs chopped
- 2 onions diced
- 5 cups diced cooked chicken from 5 small chicken breast halves or a rotisserie chicken
- 2 (10 oz) cans cream of chicken soup
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup milk
- ½ fresh lemon juiced, also zest the lemon before juicing and reserve the zest
- 1 teaspoon Savory Herb & Vegetable Seasoning *see notes for substitute
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
For the Breadcrumb Topping
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsps olive oil
- Reserved lemon zest from the fresh lemon
- ¾ cup almond slices toasted
Prepare the Chicken Casserole Base
- Get the wild rice boxes cooking according to the package directions. They will take about 20 minutes to finish.
- While the wild rice is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery and onions and cook them until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and milk to the skillet and stir until smooth. Add the lemon juice, Savory Herb & Vegetable seasoning (or herb substitute), cayenne pepper, and black pepper and stir them together.
- Add the diced chicken to the skillet and stir.
- Scrape the chicken and soup mixture into a large mixing bowl. Fluff the wild rice and scrape it into the bowl with the chicken mixture. Stir them together until well combined. If your skillet is extra-large, you might have room to just stir them together there, my standard skillet was not big enough to do so.
- Add the shredded Monterey Jack cheese and stir.
- Spray either 2 8x11-inch baking dishes or 1 10x15-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spoon the chicken filling into the baking dishes and smooth into an even layer.
- If you're preparing the casserole for the freezer, stop here and check the notes below for freezing instructions.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the casserole on a large baking sheet to catch any spills once the sauces get nice and bubbly while baking.
- In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, olive oil, and reserved lemon zest with a fork. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top of the chicken filling.
- Bake the chicken wild rice casserole for 35 minutes.
- Spread the almond slices on a separate baking sheet. Bake them for 7 - 8 minutes or until browned and toasted. You can do this while the chicken casserole is baking but watch them carefully because almonds can burn quickly. They will definitely finish much faster than the casserole itself.
- Once the chicken wild rice casserole is finished with the first round of baking, sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top and bake for just 5 minutes more. The casserole is finished when the sauce is bubbling hot, the breadcrumbs are toasted, and the almonds are warmed through.
Make Ahead Freezing InstructionsTo freeze the chicken wild casserole, prepare the chicken filling and spread into a freezer-safe baking container or aluminum foil baking dish. Wrap tightly in foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw the frozen casserole in your fridge overnight. Then proceed with the baking directions as written above. Do not try to freeze the casserole with the breadcrumbs or almond topping. Sprinkle those fresh over the top before putting it into the oven. You can actually freeze the breadcrumbs in a separate bag so they are pre-measured and ready to go if you want to save a step. Just thaw them in the fridge along with the casserole.
Savory Herb Substitution:If you don't want to purchase the Savory Herb & Vegetable seasoning I used and love, you can substitute any one of the following:
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
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