Some recipes come with tasty intentions, if not the simplest of instructions. And then some recipes, our favorite type of recipes, deliver both. On busy weeknights, sometimes the only thing standing between us and ordering pizza is a quick, concise, hard-working ingredient list. Preferably to be put in a casserole dish.
If you’re like us, you know the type. Easy? Check. Fast? Check. Good enough to appease even the harshest of critics? (Read: hungry teenagers.) Check. During these times of need, we call on a classic favorite: creamy ranch chicken casserole. It’s impossibly simple, satisfyingly hearty, and completely worthy of weeknight warrior status.
Because in this chaotic world, we know one thing for certain: Putting chicken with ranch seasoning in a casserole dish is like throwing a Hail Mary with five seconds left on the clock, except you know it’s going to land in the end zone every single time.
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Growing up, my grandmother always made a stovetop version of creamy ranch chicken when she was fixing up a last-minute spread for supper. Without even using a recipe, she’d cook with just her taste buds and deft intuition. She’d put a pot of rice on the stove, roast some fresh seasonal vegetables, and bake some quick cornbread or drop biscuits. Then, we were really in business. Despite the utter simplicity, I still get excited when I smell that creamy concoction in the air.
Though ingredient specifications differ recipe to recipe, this casserole has some core values that aren’t to be compromised. For those familiar, it’s akin to the vintage classic, poppy seed chicken. First, there’s the creaminess factor, which is typically some combination of cream of chicken soup, sour cream, mayonnaise, or even cream cheese. Second, there’s the crunch factor, which is usually a topping of crushed Ritz crackers or crispy breadcrumbs. Lastly, of course, there's the ranch factor, which is the zingy touch that catapults this casserole to the next level.
From there on out, it’s a free-for-all. Add flavor with some sautéed aromatic veggies, like onion and bell peppers; give some heat with green chiles; throw in some chopped bacon or poppy seeds for the health of it; or sprinkle shredded Cheddar cheese under the crunchy topping for delightful gooeyness.
Using chicken tenders instead of chicken breasts will cut your cooking time significantly, which is often a deciding factor on busy weeknights; while choosing to pre-cook chicken in a skillet with aromatics before incorporating the creamy mixture enhances the overall flavor. If really in a pinch, layer the chicken tenders in the casserole dish with the creamy component and crunchy topping, pop it in the oven, and c’est fini!
For some definitive guidelines, check out the popular recipe that’s been pinned over 3,000 times on Pinterest: Creamy Ranch Chicken Casserole by Lauren’s Latest. More of a slow cooker lover? The respected ranch dressing retailer itself, Hidden Valley, offers a recipe for Slow Cooker Crack Chicken that only requires three ingredients and is practically begging to be spooned over some warm, fluffy rice.
WATCH: Classic Poppy Seed Chicken
No matter which way you cook this creamy chicken dish, you’re going to need some easy and delicious sides. Serve it up with our Slow-Cooker Green Beans, Wild Rice with Mushrooms, and Parker House Rolls for an unbeatably simple and show-stopping weeknight dinner.