Chicken Casserole is a low-effort sweet and sticky baked chicken dish with a sauce thrown together from canned goods and salad dressing. The name is not terribly descriptive. It bears a strong resemblance to a Russian Chicken recipe that seems to show up in a lot of my community cookbooks, all variants on a recipe created by Kraft foods, probably in the early 1990s. This particular recipe comes from a 1996 community cookbook compiled by the congregation of the Little White Chapel Christian Church in Burbank, California. The recipe was submitted by a woman who appears to have been a prominent figure in the Disciples of Christ denomination. This simple, weeknight-worthy recipe seems fitting for a busy, globetrotting reverend.
The core of the recipe, and all of its variants, is bottled Catalina salad dressing, a Kraft-trademarked variant of American-style French dressing. Catalina was my dressing of choice growing up, sweeter and more piquant than boring old French dressing, and goopy in a ketchupy way that my younger self quite enjoyed. My grandmother always had a bottle in the fridge for Sunday dinner, but after grandma passed away I can’t remember buying a bottle I found the recipe for Instant Pot Russian Chicken. In my twenty years Catalina-free I kind of lost my taste for it. Ever since reaching middle age I’ve been slowly losing my sweet tooth, and it’s just too much for me these days on a salad. As a cooking sauce, though, I think I’m sold. It’s the right blend of sweet, salt, and acid and adds some much-needed zest to boring old chicken.
The original Kraft foods recipe includes just three ingredients: Catalina salad dressing, whole berry cranberry sauce, and Lipton onion soup mix, mixed together and poured over raw chicken breast. Chicken Casserole changes proportions a bit and adds a can of pineapple tidbits for good measure. And that’s it. I’ve swapped out chicken thighs for chicken breasts – I prefer both the flavor and texture of dark meat chicken – but otherwise left the recipe intact. Would I make it again? Sure, but I’ll admit I have a moderate preference for the Instant Pot Russian Chicken over Chicken Casserole. The Instant Pot Recipe adds mushrooms rather than pineapple, which tempers the sweetness and also soaks up some of the sauce. I also find that the sweet sauce pairs better with shredded, pressure cooked chicken. Chicken Casserole’s still great: the chicken really takes on the sauce and turns out tender and juicy (even if you overcook it a smidge).
Chicken Casserole yields an awful lot of sauce, so be prepared with a starch to sop up the extra. The original recipe recommends serving over rice, but I found that dried spaetzle was more than up to the task. Add a steamed vegetable and you’ve got a full meal. Enjoy!
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- Trim chicken thighs well and arrange in a large baking dish.
- Mix remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken. Bake 30-45 minutes uncovered until mixture is bubbly and chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165° F. Serve over rice or noodles.