As I’ve grown as a home cook, prioritizing flexibility in recipes is something I’ve learned to truly cherish. Especially now that I’m a busy parent, I find myself asking a series of questions any time I approach a recipe:
Can I substitute leftovers for an ingredient in a recipe I want to make? Can I serve this meal in a variety of ways? Is it doable to make this on a weeknight, or can I change it a bit to make it special for a weekend dinner party?
When it comes to this Easy Chicken Mac and Cheese, the answer to all of those questions is “yes!”
We make this recipe frequently at my house because it’s so flexible and delicious. My kiddos like it right out of the pot—it’s so creamy and cheesy!
Meanwhile, my wife and I usually like it dressed up a bit, either by adding a handful of crispy breadcrumbs as a topper over each bowl for a little texture, or by mixing in some roasted veggies.
The leftovers also reheat well. Add a splash of milk and heat it in a pan over low heat until it’s melted and creamy again, or microwave to reheat.
What to Serve on the Side!
Easy Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe
For the chicken, you can use leftover chicken, a rotisserie chicken from the deli, or quickly poach a few chicken breasts.
Oven-baking instructions: If you’d prefer a casserole-style mac and cheese, you can transfer the contents to an 8×8 baking dish, top it with breadcrumbs, and bake it at 350°F for 20 minutes. This is a great option if you want to make the dish in advance.
For the Chicken Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces dry macaroni
- 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole or 2% milk
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard (optional)
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (See Recipe Note)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the Crispy Breadcrumbs:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs, such as panko
1 Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, or according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and keep the pasta from sticking together. Set aside.
2 Cook the onions and garlic: In a large pot over medium heat, add butter. Once the butter is melted, add chopped onions and cook for a few minutes until they turn translucent. Then add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir the flour into the onion and garlic mixture and cook for a minute.
3 Stir in the milk, mustard and cheese: Slowly add the milk while stirring. The flour and onion mixture will thicken as you add the milk.
Once all the milk is added, stir in the grated cheese and mustard. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted.
4 Stir the chicken and pasta into the sauce: Once the cheese is melted, stir in the chicken and cooked pasta. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
5 Cook the breadcrumbs: Whenever you have a few spare moments while assembling this pasta (like, while cooking the onions or while waiting for the cheese to melt), cook the breadcrumbs.
Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs until well combined. Continue to stir over low heat until the breadcrumbs are browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Breadcrumbs can also be toasted ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.
6 Serve: Ladle the cheesy chicken macaroni right out of the pot when it’s super creamy, and top it with crispy breadcrumbs.