Healthy Chicken Tetrazzini Recipe. I don’t think I’ve seen more beautiful words. Tender chicken, sweet peas, and savory mushrooms all twirled with noodles and smothered with a creamy, cheese-laced sauce. If that’s not heaven, I don’t know what is.
Healthy Chicken Tetrazzini
If there were ever a dish that epitomized the notion of comfort food, I think it would be this chicken tetrazzini recipe.
Although I assume the ideal comfort food dish differs for everyone based on their childhood and upbringing. Cheesy chicken tetrazzini is what makes the nostalgic side of my brain tick. It’s something we ate regularly growing up, and it’s also a dish my Mom brought to friends, neighbors, and family members in times of need, and now, so do I. So I guess I also associate it with the warm and fuzzy feeling helping someone out brings.
From when the first freeze comes in October until the first daffodil blooms in spring, you can bet I’m whipping up a version of chicken tetrazzini (or this chicken spaghetti) somewhat regularly.
Because the original version of this chicken tetrazzini recipe isn’t exactly categorized as healthy (or even close to it), I set out on a mission to lighten it up a little bit. And boy, I’m so glad I did. This lightened up version is still cheesy, still creamy, and still just as comforting.
What is Chicken Tetrazzini?
But first, what the heck is chicken tetrazzini? Chicken tetrazzini is a creamy noodle dish packed with mushrooms, cheese, and a creamy sauce. It’s covered with more cheese, baked, and served casserole-style.
Everyone has their own version. Some are made with cream cheese, some are made with canned cream of mushroom. Some versions of chicken tetrazzini are made with peas, and some are made with broccoli. Ours, while traditional in the creamy, cheesy, mushroom department, has an extra dose of flavor from the addition of dry sherry wine. For me, without the nutty flavor of sherry, chicken tetrazzini is merely a creamy, cheesy pasta dish that’s indistinguishable from the rest of the creamy, cheesy casseroles out there. (Although there’s nothing wrong with that, I guess.)
The great thing about sherry?? It’s not an ingredient I have to omit to lighten up our original recipe. In fact, I actually double the amount of sherry in this healthy chicken tetrazzini recipe to ensure even a lightened-up version doesn’t lack any flavor.
Our version of a healthy chicken tetrazzini recipe also has a from-scratch cream sauce, except instead of our original which includes heavy cream, we use a part low-fat milk, part chicken stock mixture.
The butter we use is cut back and the full-fat cheddar cheese is swapped out with a 2% milk variety. Our last attempt to lighten this classic dish is to swap out traditional white flour pasta for whole-wheat.
Ingredients in Healthy Chicken Tetrazzini
Chicken. I like to cook my own chicken. If you cook the chicken in the same skillet you cook the mushrooms and make the sauce in, it adds yet another layer of flavor. Layers of flavor = delicious chicken tetrazzini. I use chicken tenders, because they’re as the name implies, super tender and cook quickly, but you can also use chicken breasts sliced thin or cut into bite-sized pieces.
Butter. Every thickened cream sauce or béchamel starts with a fat, and here we use butter. Unsalted butter is what you’ll need.
Onion and garlic. Not much explanation here – onion and garlic are always at the base of our casserole dishes,
Mushrooms. For maximum flavor, use cremini mushrooms. Cremini mushrooms are baby portabellas so they’re a little bit heartier and more flavorful than a typical button mushroom.
Flour. Flour is used to thicken the cream sauce.
Sherry. As aforementioned, sherry is an essential ingredient in this healthy chicken tetrazzini recipe. It adds a nutty note that makes this version truly delicious. Don’t leave it out! And don’t buy the stuff you get at the grocery store. If you can, go to your nearest liquor store and buy good-quality DRY sherry. You won’t regret it.
Chicken stock. Low-sodium chicken stock or broth is what you want to use here.
Milk. I use 2% milk here, but 1% would also work if that’s what you have on had.
Pasta. For me chicken tetrazzini means wide, long-stranded noodles, but we’ve also made with wide egg noodles as well. In this version, we used whole-wheat linguine, but if you can find whole wheat egg noodles, that will work as well. This is our favorite brand of whole-wheat pasta.
Cheese. Sharp cheddar cheese is traditional in chicken tetrazzini, so we use a 2% milk lower fat sharp cheddar.
How to make this Healthy Chicken Tetrazzini Recipe
Cook the chicken. Season the chicken tenders on both sides with plenty of salt and pepper. Add a little bit of butter to the bottom of a deep skillet, this is what I use. Once the butter has melted, add the chicken. Sear until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Brown the mushrooms. Remove the chicken tenders and add the rest of the butter. I like to cook the mushrooms before the onion and garlic, so they have chance to brown up a little bit. If you cook the onion and garlic first, it will release all of the moisture in the mushrooms making them steam instead of brown.
Add the onion and garlic. Once the mushrooms are almost cooked down and slightly brown, add onion, garlic, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes until the onion and garlic are soft.
Make the sauce. Whisk in flour.Cook for one minute. Slowly whisk in milk, chicken stock and dry sherry. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. NOTE. Do not add cold milk and chicken stock. I like to heat them both up in the microwave before whisking it into the veggies and roux. It helps to thicken the sauce faster.
Cook the pasta. While the sauce thickens, cook the pasta. You want the pasta to be UNDER aldente since it will continue to cook in the oven.
Assemble. Once the pasta has cooked, drain and transfer to the sauce, along with the reserved chicken and all but 1/2 cup of the cheese. Use tongs to toss everything together. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake. Transfer to a square 9×9 baking dish. Cover with cheese. Bake until hot, bubbly and cheese has melted, about 15-20 minutes.
Can I make this in advance?
Yes! If you’re prepping this healthy chicken tetrazzini recipe in advance, you REALLY want to make sure to undercook the noodles. They should have a really good bite to them. Prepare up until transferring everything to the baking dish. Cool completely in the pot, and then transfer to the baking dish.
Cover with cheese and then cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. Bake as instructed. This can be done up to two days ahead of time.
Is this good leftover?
SO good. We made this last week and picked on it all week long. When you’re ready to re-heat, add a portion to a plate or bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel or cloth towel and microwave in 35-second increments until hot.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be sure to cook the pasta until just under aldente. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want it to overcook.
- To up the veggie game, add frozen peas and double the amount of mushrooms.
- Make sure to season with plenty of salt and pepper.
- When you add the liquid, use a wooden spoon to scape up all those brown bits at the bottom of the pan from cooking the chicken, mushrooms, and onions.
- Use whole-wheat wide egg noodles or fettuccine in place of linguine if that’s what you have on hand.
What to serve with Chicken Tetrazzini
- This Chopped Tuscan Salad or this Kale and Brussels sprout Salad is one of our favorite healthy sides to serve with our dinners.
- These Creamy Peas with Pancetta are the perfect veggie side to serve with chicken tetrazzini. They’re packed with crispy pancetta and served in a light creamy sherry sauce.
- Our favorite carrot recipe at the moment is this Roasted Carrot Recipe with Pistachio Pesto. It takes your average roasted carrot recipe to a whole new level.
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 lb chicken tenders
- 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp salt, divided
- 3/4 cup dry sherry
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups warm or hot 2% milk
- 1 1/4 cups warm or hot low-sodium chicken stock or broth
- 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 lb whole-wheat linguine
- 1 1/2 cups shredded 2% milk sharp cheddar cheese
- stock pot
- Large skillet
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x9 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Bring a large stock pot filled with water to a rolling boil. Add a generous handful of salt. It should taste almost as salty as the sea.
- Heat a large skillet with high sides (about two-three inches), to medium heat. Add one tablespoon of butter. Season chicken tenders generously with salt and pepepr on both sides. Once the butter has melted, add the chicken. Cook until seared on both sides and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan, cool and cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Add the remaining two tablespoons butter to the pan. Add mushrooms, stir and then cook without touching for 2-3 minutes until brown. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook a little bit more until the other side is brown, about 1-2 minutes. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook until onion is soft and fragrant, another 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook another minute.
- Stir in dry sherry. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until reduced by half. Whisk in flour. Cook for one minute. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in WARM chicken stock, making sure there are no lumps. Slowly whisk in milk, and remaining salt along with freshly cracked black pepper. Return to the heat, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until thickened, about 5-7 minutes.
- Once the sauce has simmered for a few minutes and has started to thicken, drop the pasta into the boiling water. Cook until just UNDER aldente. It should have a good bite to it. Drain.
- When the sauce has thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pasta, 1 cup of the shredded cheese and chopped chicken. Use tongs to combine everything together. Season to taste again with salt and pepper.
- Transfer to prepared baking dish. Cover with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake uncovered until hot, bubbly and the cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Let sit for 2-3 minutes before serving.