Chicken Tetrazzini is a big, bubbly pasta bake with a creamy cheese sauce, juicy chicken and buttery garlic mushrooms. It’s about as classic as a creamy pasta bake can get!
I call Tetrazzini an Italian pasta bake just because it sounds good to say so, but in actual fact, there is nothing Italian about this creamy-oh-so-cheesy pasta casserole other than the fact that it’s named after an Italian opera singer, Luisa Tetrazzini.
It is said that a Chef at a hotel in the States invented this dish especially for her, and you’ll never find it in a (real) Italian cookbook. But that doesn’t make this any less delicious. Juicy chicken with garlic butter mushrooms smothered in a béchamel sauce, tossed through slick pasta and baked until bubbly…. UGH! I’m torturing myself just writing about it!! 😂
This pasta casserole bake is made from scratch. Canned soup has no place around here!!
What you need for creamy Chicken Tetrazzini Sauce
Here’s what you need to make the cream sauce for Chicken Tetrazzini: butter, flour, chicken broth/stock, milk, cream and cheese.
The basis of Tetrazzini sauce is a béchamel sauce. While a basic béchamel is made with just butter, flour and milk, for Tetrazzini, we dial up the deliciousness by adding chicken stock (for flavour), cream (for richness) and cheese (a good thing in anything!).
What goes in Chicken Tetrazzini
As for the pasta bake itself, here’s what you need:
- Pasta – long strand pasta like spaghetti is traditional, but this recipe works perfectly with short pastas like macaroni, penne, ziti, rigatoni, spirals. Just avoid tiny pasta like risoni/orzo, ditalini, tiny shells or novelty pastas like alphabet pasta – they are too small;
- Chicken – thighs are best because they stay juicy even after the double cook (seared then baked), but breast and tenderloin are fine too. Buying pre-cooked chicken will speed things up, but the sauce won’t be as nice because it gets a flavour boost by cooking the sauce in the same pot the chicken is seared in (the golden bits left in the pan from the chicken is a free flavour boost for the sauce);
- Mushrooms – anything sliceable is fine, I’ve just used normal button mushrooms here;
- Butter – used to cook the mushrooms, and also as the fat into which the flour is mixed which thickens the liquids to make the creamy sauce;
- Garlic and onion – essential flavour base.
How to make Chicken Tetrazzini
Cook the chicken first because the golden bits left in the pot will dissolve into the sauce which adds a stack of flavour. The chicken doesn’t need to be fully cooked through – once chopped into small pieces, it will take mere minutes to finish cooking in the oven.
Skip the shortcut store bought roast chicken. Cooking your own is so much tastier because the sauce gets a massive free flavour boost from deglazing the pot.
After the chicken is cooked, we cook the mushrooms and onion, then mix in the flour before adding the liquids. This is an easy method to ensure your creamy sauce comes out smooth rather than with flour lumps without the need of a whisk or slowly pouring the milk in. By mixing the flour into the cooked mushrooms, it gets dispersed which makes it far less prone to lumps when the milk is added. Tip of the day! 😎
How to tell when the béchamel sauce is thick enough
Use the “path” test (Step 5 above) – coat the back of your wooden spoon with the sauce, hold it vertically (so the sauce is dripping off it). Then use your finger to draw a line across it – it should hold briefly before the sauce runs down to cover the line up. This means the sauce is thick enough.
TIP: The sauce should not be very thick – it thickens more when cheese is added and again when baked.
Plenty of sauce – because nobody likes stodgy pasta bakes!
As with all my pasta bakes, I make more sauce than most recipes because I like my pasta bakes to come out of the oven molten and bubbling, smothered with sauce rather than a dried up stodgy block that you can cut like cake. No thank you!!! I want THIS ↓↓↓
What to serve with Chicken Tetrazzini
I’d strongly urge you to add a side of greens – have a browse through my Vegetable Sides (newly organised by vegetable!).
For dessert, try Tiramisu if you want to keep with the Italian theme, or if you’re going for a cosy Winter meal, make a pudding! Try one of these:
Winter Puddings and Cosy Dessert suggestions
Enjoy! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Chicken Tetrazzini (creamy chicken mushroom pasta bake)
- 500g / 1lb spaghetti or other long pasta, cooked per packet (penne, macaroni, ziti ok too) (Note 1)
- 2 tbsp (30g) butter
- 500g / 1lb chicken thighs , skinless boneless (Note 2)
- 4 tbsp (60g) butter , unsalted
- 500g / 1lb mushrooms , sliced 1/2 cm / 1/5" thick
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 4 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk , any fat, any type
- 1 cup cream , heavy / thickened (sub more milk)
- 2 cups chicken stock/broth , low sodium (or water + 2 stock cubes)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups cheese , shredded (cheddar, jack, colby - not mozz)
- Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large pot over high heat. Add chicken, sprinkle with pinch of salt and pepper. Cook 1 1/2 minutes until golden.
- Turn chicken, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute until golden then remove onto plate - doesn't need to be fully cooked (will cook more in oven).
- Rest 5 minutes, then chop into small pieces, or shred.
Sauce & pasta
- Preheat oven to 160°C / 325°F.
- Cook mushrooms: Melt 4 tbsp butter over high heat in the same pot. Add mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes until starting to go floppy but not yet golden.
- Add onion: Add garlic and onion, cook for 3 minutes until mushrooms are golden. Add a pinch of salt and pepper halfway through.
- Add flour & milk: Turn heat down to medium. Add flour. Stir for 30 seconds. Add milk and stir for 10 seconds or until it thickens (see video at 52 sec).
- Add cream and broth: Add chicken stock, cream, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Stir, then let the mixture heat up, stirring every now and then so it doesn't catch on the base, and cook until the sauce thickens enough so you can draw a path on the back of the spoon (video at 1.04). Do not make it very thick - it gets thicker in next steps.
- Add cheese & pasta: Turn stove off. Stir through half the cheese (will melt in oven), then add pasta and chicken. Toss to mix, taste and add more salt if needed.
- Bake: Pour into 23 x 33cm / 9 x 13" pan, smooth surface. Top with remaining cheese. Bake 25 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately!
- Butter - sub margarine. Sub with olive oil + switch 1 cup of the milk for cream (if you can, to make up richness/flavour). Butter is flavour, so try not to skip this.
- Flour - any type of flour fine here, white, wholemeal, self raising, gluten free. Cornflour/cornstarch gluten free sub: Mix 3.5 tbsp with splash of water and add that in with the milk. And obviously, use GF pasta!
- Milk - any type. Dairy, non dairy, full fat, low fat, fresh, long life, milk powder (reconstituted). Up to 1.5 cups milk can be substituted with water.
- Stock/bouillon powder or cube or seasoning instead of liquid stock/broth - use 2 cubes or 4 tsp powder, chicken or vegetable (Vegeta is my fave). Sub with 1/2 cup extra parmesan + salt to taste.
- No cheese? Add 3/4 cup / 75g shredded parmesan, or 1 - 1.5 tsp chicken stock powder.
Life of Dozer
One of his best features. (Minus what looks like a big boogie up his nose 😆)