Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti is a comfort food classic made with chunks of chicken, your favorite veggies, and a simple homemade cheese sauce (instead of Velveeta and 'Cream of X' soup).
When you have young children, you may find yourself concocting as many different variations of mac & cheese as possible in a quest to cook dinners that your offspring will actually ingest. And truth be told, if you trade the macaroni for spaghetti, keep the creamy cheese sauce, and throw in some shredded chicken and optional veggies for good measure, the resulting Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti will have kids and adults alike coming back for more!
Everyone has probably had an incarnation of chicken spaghetti before. But here's what makes this version the best... 😉
1. Tasty though they may be, a big block of processed cheese and a gelatinous can of creamed soup are ingredients that I prefer to swap out with real foods whenever possible. As a result, I bring together this Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti with an easy, creamy, homemade cheese sauce. You can't get more basic than butter, flour, cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and milk...that's it, folks! And if you're feeling particularly wild and crazy, you could even substitute different cheeses, such as pepper jack for a spicy kick.
(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, in addition to starring in this spaghetti, homemade cheese sauce is popular around our house for enhancing veggies, dressing up a baked potato, or drowning a burrito. Or...eating with a spoon. Ahem.)
2. This recipe can make use of leftover chicken. Or you can shred up an oh-so-convenient rotisserie chicken. Or utilize chicken breasts that have been effortlessly cooked in the slow cooker. Or whip up some boiled, baked, or grilled chicken. In other words? Use whatever chicken is easiest for you to make, buy, or that you already have on hand!
3. Swap out the vegetables for your favorites. My family happens to enjoy peas and mushrooms, so that's what I like to use in this dish. However, this recipe is also delicious with other veggie embellishments. Pimientos keep things classic. Diced tomatoes and green chiles make for a yummy southwestern twist. If sauteed bell peppers and onions are your thing, go for it. Or leave out the veggies altogether for an unadulterated Chicken Spaghetti! The choice is yours.
The point is, this Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti is mac & cheese at heart...but all grown up. It's simple to make, easy to customize, and guaranteed to disappear in a flash of comfort food glory. Make it soon and make it your own. I hope you love it as much as we do!
Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti Recipe
Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, DIVIDED
- 16 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, dried, trimmed, and sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 4 cups shredded/diced chicken
- 3 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 1 cup crushed butter cracker crumbs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the cheese sauce:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk, at room temperature
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar, freshly grated
- 8 ounces Monterrey Jack, freshly grated
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- While water is coming to a boil, set another large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and 1 tablespoon butter; once melted, swirl to coat pot. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately five minutes or until mushrooms give off liquid. Increase heat to high and stir frequently until liquid has completely evaporated. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to pan, and stir and cook until mushrooms are tender and browned, about five minutes more.
- Add garlic to pan and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, or until garlic becomes aromatic but not too dark. Season mushrooms with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and transfer to a plate, draining on a paper towel if they seem too oily. Set aside.
- While mushrooms are cooking, break spaghetti in half and boil according to package directions until al dente (do not overcook). Drain, rinse well, return to pot, and set aside.
- Prepare cheese sauce by placing a medium pot over medium heat. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Use a whisk to stir in flour, whisking continuously until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Continue to whisk while slowly and gradually adding milk. Whisk until sauce is smooth and thickened, between 5 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add grated cheese, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until completely melted and smooth before adding more. Once all cheese has been incorporated and cheese sauce is smooth, stir in garlic salt and pepper, to taste.
- To pot of cooked/drained spaghetti, add shredded chicken, mushroom/garlic mixture, and peas. Pour cheese sauce over top and stir until well combined, seasoning with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer chicken spaghetti to prepared baking dish and top with cracker crumbs. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- You may use leftover chicken or cook it fresh by poaching, baking, grilling, cooking in the slow cooker, etc. Alternatively, a rotisserie chicken torn into chunks will yield about 4 cups.
- Instead of regular spaghetti, I typically use whole wheat capellini (thin spaghetti). Whole wheat thin spaghetti doesn't end up tasting "wheat-y" like some whole wheat pasta does.
- To save on washing dishes, you can boil the spaghetti in the same water that you boiled the chicken (if that's how you prefer to cook the chicken). And as long as there is nothing stuck to the pot where you cooked the mushrooms, you may make your cheese sauce in the same pot without washing it first.
- Cheese sauce is easy to make but also easy to mess up if you don't follow the directions exactly. Cheese should be freshly grated (the packaged, pre-grated cheese has an additive that keeps it from sticking together but can also make for lumpy melting). Room temperature milk works best (I just zap it in the microwave to take off the chill). Be sure to take the pot off the heat and add the cheese very gradually, stirring well and allowing it to melt completely between additions.
- If you have fewer mouths to feed and prefer making this recipe in two 8- by 8-inch dishes instead of a 9- by 13-inch dish, you can keep one and share one!
Cheese sauce adapted from Martha Stewart
More Comfort Food Classics
- One-Pot Spaghetti
- The BEST Sloppy Joe Recipe
- Chicken & Dumplings
- 30-Minute Skillet Lasagna
- Chicken Pot Pie Casserole