First off, allow me to apologize.
When I ventured into making this meal I had no idea where I was going with it. I didn’t know how I was going to plate it nor did I know how it was going to taste.
Because I was so clueless I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the process. It wasn’t until I was done that I realized I had made one crazy meal.
My original intention was to make a copycat of Panera’s Mac & Cheese. Something I’m sure needs no explanation. Even if you’ve never had it before you must have heard of its amazingly creamy cheesiness. Then that idea slowly turned into a sort of Mac & Cheese Pie with a bacon lattice. Because honestly, you can never have enough bacon lattices in your life. But that quickly went from great idea to too much bloody work. Having to make the pie dough, making and cooking the lattice, a wife at work, a 3 year old running rampant, a newborn who doesn’t like to nap long, I just… no. Just no.
So I started making the sauce, knowing what I was going to do with it, but at the same time, not really knowing what I was going to do with it. It wasn’t until the work was all done and I saw the pan filled with with cheesy goodness that I knew what the dish was born to be.
Chicken Cheese & Bacon Casserole adapted from Panera Bread
3/4 cup ~ Butter
1 cup ~ Flour
4 1/2 cups ~ 2% Milk
3/4 pound ~ Extra Sharp Vermont White Cheddar Cheese
1/4 pound ~ White American Cheese
1 cup ~ Parmesan Cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons ~ Dried Basil
1 1/2 teaspoons ~ Dried Oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ~ Fresh Cracked Pepper
at least 1 1/2 teaspoons ~ Salt
3 each ~ Chicken Breasts, cooked, diced
1 package ~ Bacon, cooked crispy, crumbled
1 bag ~ Broccoli Florets, steam in a bag kind
1 box (16oz) ~ Conchiglie (Medium Shell Pasta)
Panko Bread Crumbs
- You’re going to need a 9 x 13 baking pan and a pan or pot big enough to fit a small child.
- I know the ratio of butter to flour is a wee bit off for the roux, but it works. When trying to whisk it in it seemed like there was going to be clumps of flour everywhere, but it dissolved nicely at the end.
- I’ve been using extra sharp Vermont white cheddar for years. It’s absolutely perfect for mashed potatoes. I always buy it from the deli counter at the supermarket so if you’re having trouble finding it start there.
- I cut up the chicken, seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary, then sauteed it till it was done. Easiest to have that done and to the side before you start on the sauce.
- Same goes for the bacon: Get it in the oven and cooked before anything gets started
- But for the love of God, once the bacon is done put it somewhere. And by that I mean hide it. You know damn well if bacon is just sitting there in front of you you’re going to eat it and have none for the casserole.
- I like using the steam in a bag broccoli because it saves me a step. Just pop it in, drain and dump it in the sauce when it’s ready.
Ok, seriously, this is so simple you’ll want to smack your head for all the times you didn’t make it. Like I said in the notes, most of the components are make ahead and just dump them in when the sauce is ready. No fancy order or special way to mix it. Just throw everything in the pot and combine. It doesn’t get any easier.
- First off, get your chicken, bacon and broccoli done. This can happen after breakfast, while making lunch, it doesn’t matter. It’ll just make the process smoother.
- When you’re ready, turn your oven on to 375° and then get a nice big pan or pot. Something that could hold a child sized pool of cheese sauce. Put it on medium heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the flour and stir to make a roux.
I’ve been over this before, but if the word roux is new to you then here you go.
- When the roux is ready, add the milk and whisk it about. You’ll probably still see some clumps floating around but just turn up the heat a bit and keep stirring from time to time and I promise they’ll go away.
- When you feel the magic happen and the milk gets thicker, you can start adding the cheese. I like going a little at a time, I do not know of any dangers when adding everything at once. So proceed with caution.
- When everything is melted and smooth, add all the seasonings and taste, taste, taste. How does it taste? Need salt? Add salt. Trust me, you’ll know. It’s a pot full of amazing cheesiness – it should taste fantastic.
- When you’re happy with the taste, add everything. The chicken, the bacon, the broccoli. All of it. Stop eating the bacon and put it in the sauce. Give it a good mix and make sure it’s all evenly distributed. Once it is, spray your baking pan/dish and then sloooooooowly pour the greatness into it.
I say slowly because it is a magnificent sight that you should cherish. Also, be careful, you may need someone to help you lift it.
- Once it’s in there, top it off with some panko breadcrumbs and pop it in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden.
When it’s out, please refrain from shoving your face in it. That will prove to be the most difficult part of the whole dish.
Notice, I made this with my crunchy garlic bread that I oh, so love. A match made in heaven, indeed.