For this Chicken Pillows recipe, roast chicken, green onions, mushrooms (only if you love ‘em), and cream cheese are rolled into a buttery crescent dough “pillow case,” coated in breadcrumbs, and baked to a golden brown. An easy, budget-friendly, perennial family favorite.
What's the Story Behind this Recipe?
This easy chicken pillows recipe is another from our collection of late twentieth-century budget-friendly family dinners. I think the archetypical recipe may have been regionally specific to Utah's Wasatch Valley, but I can't be sure.
My mama-friend Keri, a Utah native, was the first one to share her recipe for chicken pillows with me - back when our oldest kids were just babies (they're now in their 30s!), and it's been a staple on our family menu in one form or another ever since.
There are probably almost as many versions of these tasty chicken rolls (or chicken pockets as they are sometimes called) as there are people making them, because the recipe is so easy to make and modify. Once you get the basic idea, you will find it easy to customize the recipe to perfectly meet your own family's tastes.
What Goes into this Chicken Pockets Recipe
- Crescent rolls: Keri's original chicken pillow recipe calls for using Pillsbury brand Crescent Rolls, and if you are buying canned dough, I still recommend going with the name brand. We tested this recipe using a couple of store brands, and found that neither the flavor and nor texture measure up, and the trade off wasn't worth the money saved.
- Chicken: We prefer to use leftover rotisserie chicken for this recipe, but canned chicken or leftover turkey are also good options.
- Cream cheese: We recommend using full-fat cream cheese or neufchatel (light cream cheese). Avoid using non-fat cream cheese.
- Green onions: Use the entire onion; white and green. You can also use any of the usual substitutes (e.g., scallions, chives, sweet onion).
- Walnuts: Chop or grind the walnuts into pieces about the size of a grain of wheat. I honestly can't remember if the nuts were in the original recipe, or if we added them somewhere along the way, but they are now a staple whenever we make them. We love the slight crunch they add, and how they enhance the other flavors of the chicken rolls.
- Butter: Use real butter, salted or unsalted. You will need extra butter if you decided to coat the rolls with butter before adding the bread crumbs.
- Lemon zest: A little bit of citrus with chicken always brightens the entire dish.
- Bread Crumbs: Bread crumbs give the exterior of the pillow a light crunchy coating. The original recipe instructed that the pillows be dipped in melted butter before coating, but they don't really need the butter to make the bread crumbs stick, and we enjoy the lighter coating without it. (If you want to add that layer of butter, go for it!) The bread crumbs are not a deal-breaker, and can be left out entirely if you prefer.
- Cream of Chicken Soup (for the gravy): I'll be honest, when Mr B and I make chicken pillows, we don't always make gravy because they are delicious on their own. However, the gravy makes them feel more like a dinner, and gives them a cozy, creamy element.
How to Make Utah Chicken Pockets
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and set aside.
Sauté mushrooms in butter; or, if you are skipping the mushrooms, melt the butter.
Combine cream cheese and warm sautéed mushrooms (or plain melted butter), walnuts, green onions, and lemon zest. Stir until everything is well combined.
Add the cubed or shredded chicken and mix thoroughly.
Cut each crescent roll sheet into 4 rectangles, for a total of 8 pieces.
- (A) Place ⅛ of the chicken mixture on each pastry rectangle.
- (B) Flatten slightly and form into a pillow shape.
- (C) Fold the sides in, overlapping in the middle.
- (D) press the overlapping sides together, and fold the short side ends up to seal.
NOTE: If you are using regular crescent roll dough, you will need to press two pieces along the diagonal to create one pillow case.
Roll each pillow in bread crumbs, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
Whisk together soup and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it is hot. Do not boil. Season with curry and ginger. (The spices add some subtle flavor, and also lessen the "can" taste.)
Serve chicken pillows with gravy on the side.
- Chicken: Despite being a chicken recipe, there is a lot of latitude about what specific protein you use. We most often use leftover rotisserie chicken, but canned chicken or turkey are also good options. We've also made them with both ground chicken and ground beef and they came out great! This recipe is an excellent way to use up turkey leftover from the holidays.
- Cream cheese: Change the whole flavor profile by using a savory, flavored cream cheese (i.e., schmears). The original recipe specifically listed Philadelphia Chive and Onion Cream Cheese in its ingredients.
- Walnuts: Substitutions that test well flavor-wise include hazelnuts (filberts), pine nuts, and almonds. We usually toast the nuts before adding them to the chicken mixture.
• Chicken-Mushroom Pockets: I don't know when we started adding sautéed mushrooms to our chicken pockets, but we love the chicken-mushroom combo. It's easy to leave them out of half the pockets, so if you have a house divided over mushrooms, you can make everyone happy.
• Curried Chicken Pockets: Add 2 teaspoons of curry powder to the cream cheese before you mix it with everything else. (If you love chicken and curry, check our Curried Chicken Salad and Easy Lemon Chicken with Curry recipes!)
• Homemade Bread Pockets: Use homemade bread dough to wrap the rolls instead of canned crescent dough.
• Beef Pockets: Substitute cooked ground beef for the chicken.
• Vegetarian Pockets: All you need to do to make this recipe vegetarian-friendly a plant-based substitute for the chicken and the soup. The meat substitute can be anything from shredded jackfruit to store-bought vegetarian chicken substitutes (e.g., Simple Truth, Beyond Meat, Gardein, Morning Star, etc.).
Cream of Celery or Cream of Broccoli are both good vegetarian subs for the Cream of Chicken soup.
If you don't own a good-quality commercial grade half-sheet pan, consider getting one. Its uses are infinite, and if you get a good one, it will last a lifetime and longer.
Before refrigerating, allow chicken pillows to cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap or place in an air-tight storage container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Cooked chicken pillows can also be frozen. Wrap cooled pillows in plastic wrap or place in an air-tight storage container and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost on the refrigerator, and reheat in the microwave or air-fryer.
Crescent Roll Sheets
Pillsbury now sells Original Crescent Dough Sheets, which I highly recommend using! The unperforated sheets eliminate the need for pressing two crescent roll pieces together to form one pillow, making the assembly process much more streamlined.
You can also use homemade crescent dough or puff pastry. (In the latter case, follow the puff pastry baking instructions.) To use homemade yeast dough, wrap the pillows after the first rise, and let them set and rise again for about 20 minutes before you pop them in the oven.
When we serve Chicken Pillows for dinner, we like to pair them with a green salad, pasta salad, fresh fruit, or a fruit salad. For a heartier meal, add some crispy smashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, or sweet potato hash.
- 1 pound rotisserie chicken ~3 cups, cubed ½-inch
- 8 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ pound mushrooms optional; thinly sliced
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- 2 whole green onions thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 2 cans Pillsbury Original Crescent Roll Sheets or crescent roll dough, puff pastry, etc.
- 1 cup dried Italian bread crumbs or fresh bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 375°F | 190°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and set aside.
- Sauté mushrooms in butter; or, if you are skipping the mushrooms, just melt the butter.
- Combine cream cheese and warm sautéed mushrooms (or plain melted butter), walnuts, green onions, and lemon zest, stirring until cream cheese fully softens into a creamy sauce.Add the cubed or shredded chicken and mix thoroughly.
- Cut each crescent roll sheet into 4 rectangles, for a total of 8 pieces.Place ⅛ of the chicken mixture on each pastry rectangle. Flatten slightly and form into a pillow shape.Fold the sides in, overlapping in the middle. Press the overlapping sides together, and fold the short side ends up to seal.NOTE: If you are using regular crescent roll dough, you will need to press two pieces along the diagonal to create one pillow case.
- Roll each pillow in bread crumbs, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
- Whisk together soup and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Season with curry and ginger. Serve chicken pillows with chicken gravy on the side.
Easy Recipe Modifications
- Change the overall flavor profile by using a savory, flavored cream cheese.
- Change the protein to something non-chickeny, or even make it vegetarian.
- Include sautéed mushrooms or other vegetables, or keep things plain and simple.
- Use homemade bread dough to wrap the rolls instead of using canned dough.
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