Hawaiian Haystacks: Chicken Sauce Reinvented

Stick with me during this complete recipe throwback to the 80’s.

After seeing the title of this post, I’m betting about 50% of you are nodding your head and saying, “Yep, had ’em” and the other 50% have no idea what I am talking about.

A staple in my home growing up, this is a simple meal consisting of rice smothered in some type of chicken sauce and topped with anything from chow mein noodles to mandarin oranges. Our favorite toppings of choice include: olives, tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, green onions, mandarin oranges and chow mein noodles…but seriously, people, you can let your imagination go wild and top these with anything that sound good to you and yours.

What I really want to focus on is the chicken sauce. Hawaiian Haystacks are notoriously made with a gravy concocted from cream of chicken soup, milk and sour cream (or some such variation on this theme). In my quest to eliminate many processed foods from our diet, I have long since stopped cooking with condensed soups, but I happen to love this meal and wanted to recreate a from-scratch chicken sauce to make an average Hawaiian Haystack become out of this world (wait, then would it be called a Galactical Haystack??).

Enter my reinvented chicken sauce. Simple and quick to make, this saucy mixture is light, creamy and packed with flavor, thanks to the fresh garlic and onions. I was thrilled with the outcome and have a feeling Hawaiian Haystacks will be making a major comeback in our house, thanks to the gravy reinvention.

What To ServeBaked Brown Rice
Buttery Peas with Thyme
Toppings of choice, such as olives, tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, green onions, mandarin oranges and chow mein noodles

Two Years Ago: Classic Buttermilk Waffles

Hawaiian Haystacks: Chicken Sauce Reinvented

Yield: Makes about 4 cups chicken sauce (enough to serve 4-6 for Hawaiian Haystacks)

Hawaiian Haystacks: Chicken Sauce Reinvented


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (or leftover cooked chicken, cubed)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ onion (about ½ cup), finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic; finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth


  1. In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion and raw chicken (if using leftover cooked chicken, don’t add it to the skillet now, you’ll add it later). Saute the onion and chicken, if using, until the onions are soft and translucent and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about one minute, stirring, until fragrant.
  2. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and chicken and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for one minute – this helps get rid of the starchy, flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth. Cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, and bring the sauce to a simmer over medium to medium-high heat. Add the salt and pepper. If you are using leftover cooked chicken, add it now. Continue simmering, stirring the sauce frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Serve the chicken sauce over rice with your toppings of choice, such as olives, tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, green onions, mandarin oranges and chow mein noodles.

Recipe Source: My Kitchen Cafe

159 Responses to Hawaiian Haystacks: Chicken Sauce Reinvented

  1. brandy says:

    I made this for my large family this last weekend. I doubled the recipe, but only added 3 cups of milk b/c I was afraid it would be too runny. The consistency was perfect. The taste however was a little bland. I thought it needed more salt and pepper. Overall it was received very well by everyone. Thanks for a great recipe!

  2. Brooke says:

    I got a variation. I do my Hawaiian haystacks with ground turkey and then instead of a chicken gravy I thicken pineapple juice with corn starch (I like to add some Orange juice to the pineapple juice) so simple and it adds a nice citrus flavor

  3. CURRENTLY says:

    […] We hosted dinner for our small group last week and I made Hawaiian Haystacks from this recipe. I also added a green pepper and pineapple wedges to the toppings. They were delicious and […]

  4. Rita Hartman says:

    I must admit to never commenting on a recipe but just can’t help chiming in. I made a recipe like this called Javan Sundae in the 80’s and 90’s usually when we had company. We used a rice or chow mein noodle base, grated sharp cheddar, chopped celery and green onion, chicken cubes, spicey gravy followed by the “sundae” part consisting of coconut, pineapple and a maraschino cherry. Surprisingly delicious as your dish sounds! Thanks for reminding me of it and making a homemade gravy! I, too, have not used the condenses soups for years now. LOVE YOUR SITE!! THANK YOU!!

  5. Brittany says:

    Hey Mel, I had to let you know, that once again I have shared one of your recipes on my blog, this time it was this recipe. Thanks for sharing! I have seriously been making this for a while now. http://brittsapron.blogspot.com/2012/08/hawaiian-haystacks-w-homemade-chicken.html

  6. Menu Mondays says:

    […] Tuesday: hawaiian haystacks […]

  7. Ashley says:

    Hi…love that this can be substituted for cream of chicken soup in this dish. Out of curiosity, have you tried to use this sauce in other dishes that call for cream of chicken? I love love love casseroles and they’re in just about every casserole recipe I have (we’re in the deep south!).

    Love your blog…look forward to reading it every week when I’m at work.

  8. Mel says:

    Ashley – I use a variation of this creamy sauce in recipes that I want to sub out the cream of chicken soup. Usually I just make a flour roux (like in this recipe) with onions or garlic or whatever other spices might compliment and use chicken broth and/or milk to help thicken it up. I’m working on actually getting the amounts down pat so I can post how to sub it in but for now, I just vary it for each recipe and it usually works great.

  9. Betsy says:

    Hawaiian hay stacks

  10. donna waterson says:

    I bet you haven’t heard these called “Javonese Montains”. Have a printed recipe that goes back 30+ years. I also wanted to make for a group gathering, but just would not consider using canned cream of mushroom soup! I googled “Javonese Mountains” to no avail, but while pinning another recipe from your site stumbled onto your Hawaiian Haystacks.
    Thanks for sharing this new take and I will make a trial run this week.

  11. Jennifer G. says:

    Sometimes to add a bit of depth to the flavor of the gravy I add a dash or two of soy sauce. It gives it a bit more savory flavor. I may try adding some pineapple juice as others suggested. My kids love this standby and it’s fun for company if you don’t know if they are picky. I love meals where everyone can add or leave out what they want.

  12. […] week’s recipe, I tried a new chicken sauce for Hawaiian Haystacks.  I got my recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, and we loved it!  We love Hawaiian Haystacks because they feel so light and fresh!  I try to […]

  13. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for this! I haven’t made these in years because I didn’t want to make the cream of chicken gravy. This was a fantastic alternative!!

  14. […] hanging with Marquis’s crew. They pulled out a recipe that I have posted on this blog before, this one. Marquis made the sauce and that boy can’t follow a recipe to save his life, but what he did […]

  15. […] without thought, but now I just can’t even touch. I found a great recipe for the real thing here that I can’t wait to try, […]

  16. […] of chicken soup with milk added to it, but this tastes better, we think. Again I found this on a Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Blog I like to read to get great ideas from for delicious food. They were trying to figure out a good […]

  17. Katie P says:

    Hi Mel! If I’m going to use leftover cooked chicken – how many cups should I use? maybe about 1 or 1.5? roasting a chicken (your honey one) this week and will have lots of extra cooked chicken.

  18. Kellie Anderson says:

    I made this last night for dinner and my hubby and I loved it! Thanks for a great, easy recipe. I’m wondering if the sauce would freeze well – what do you think? 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Kellie – I’ve never frozen this but I think it’s probably worth a try (sometimes cream-type sauces get a little grainy after being frozen).

  19. […] Chicken Hawaiian Haystacks -Adding chopped spinach to the sauce. […]

  20. […] Hawaiian haystacks. Most of this was made by my parents and supplemented by my siblings, but here is a recipe you can try. For our part, we brought a watermelon. I love that summer means melon, […]

  21. Neena says:

    I love this. I adore the idea of hawaiian haystacks, but I just can’t do the cream of soup things. I searched all over for a from scratch recipe when I found this and it’s now my go to. It’s been delicious every time.


  22. Lisa Purvis says:


  23. Heidi says:

    I used coconut oil instead of butter and it was to die for!!!!

  24. Bri says:

    Hi Mel, I have now made this several times, and we LOVE it! Such a yummy healthy dinner that the kids love too! We put it over brown rice.

  25. Tanya says:

    So I just have to leave a comment about this recipe…. A couple of years ago I was searching for ideas for this meal because I was in charge of a family reunion dinner for about 40 people. I came across your blog and this recipe, thought it looked great but not practical as we were camping on the beach and I needed super easy, dump it in and be done. Fast forward to now: tonight I made your sauce for dinner and it was delish!! The only thing I added was a dash of curry to the sauce (that’s what I always did when I used C of C soup). We all loved the sauce and I loved making it from scratch instead of the can. And in the intervening years, I’ve used dozens of recipes from your blog, so yummy and amazing! Our family’s favorite is recipe is the outrageous eskimo bars! So anyway, thought I’d share my thanks to you for all your amazing recipes. From another Mom of 5 to you, you’re amazing and appreciated!! 🙂

  26. Nancy says:

    Hawaiian Haystacks!! My most favorite meal! We also add shredded coconut and slivered almonds to your list of yummy toppings. I even like it meatless. Will try your recipe. Sounds very tasty.

  27. Bri says:

    I love this meal! We make it all the time!

  28. Bri says:

    haha, just saw that I already commented on this one.

  29. Jamie says:

    Another grand slam thanks to you 🙂 I had never made this dish before but it was my favorite hot lunch in grade school and my mom used to make it too! I made this version tonight and my husband said that it was the best meal I have made for him ever and we have been married for almost three years! He said I should make it weekly. There is nothing I love more than making people happy with delicious food so thank you, thank you, thank you! P.s. we added salsa and sour cream to the toppings you suggested and it was delicious!

  30. Ronna says:

    I don’t love chicken gravy of any kind, so I bagged it altogether and we top our Hawaiian Haystacks with Coconut milk. It’s a little bit of heaven. Give it a try.

  31. Lyn says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for this recipe! We’ve been using it since 2011 and we are so glad to get away from the cream of chicken soup – tastes so much better! Recently lost my hard copy and had to search again for your post and just so glad its still here! Many thanks for sharing.

  32. Marcie says:

    I thought I would post a comment since this is probably the 15th time I have used this recipe! My family loves it! 🙂

  33. Lorianne says:

    My family has never been a fan of the can soup gravy either. We started putting sweet and sour sauce on top. I think I will give your recipe a try also.

  34. Cathy says:

    Made this tonight for 5 families (including mine) and it was a hit! Multiplied the recipe by 6 and although it took awhile to thicken, it sure did and got rave reviews from my fam! Made it gluten free by using corn starch instead of flour. Thanks for another fab recipe Mel!

  35. Lia says:

    We had this last night for dinner; I used no milk (just more chicken broth) in your awesome recipe. Also used whole grain flour as we have eliminated all the “white stuff” from our pantry, and a pint of home-canned chicken[+ its juices] (which is ridiculously easy with a pressure canner and a good source for fresh chicken). We had it over brown rice and added red pepper, pineapple and sliced, toasted almonds to toppings. Delicious! Thanks so much for contributing a re-do recipe that can now be reinstituted into our recipe rotation.

  36. Lafayette says:

    Mel- I’m wondering what’s the best way to make this for a large group (say, 30 people). It would need to be prepped ahead of time (for a luncheon after a baby blessing). Would a crock pot work? Would I need to change anything?

    • Mel says:

      Lafayette – I think making the sauce on the stovetop according to the recipe (and increasing as necessary) and keeping it warm in the crockpot would work great – just be sure the crockpot doesn’t cook it at too high of heat; just a little warming action.

  37. Kristina says:

    We are gluten free at our house but love Hawaiian Haystacks. I made the sauce with sweet rice flour and it turned out great. I made the sauce and poured it over a few pieces of frozen chicken breasts in a crock pot and let it cook away. It tasted amazing. Today I’m going to make it into a few freezer meals. Thanks for the recipe.

  38. Ann says:

    When I was in school we had Hawaiian Haystacks but I think it was a ground meat sauce!? Served with a churro! I really enjoy the homemade sauce and I like making them!

  39. Jamie says:

    I make my sauce differently every time. I often use leftover cooked frozen turkey. It’s nice to see a recipe with no cream soup. I thought I’d share what toppings my friends and I have come up with. I love making the gravy and rice for a big group and assigning out toppings potluck style!

    The Make-A-Mix Cookbook lists the following as topping ingredients to serve 6:
    8-12 oz of “crunchy” chow mein noodles
    3 med. tomatoes, sliced
    1 cup chopped celery
    1/2 cup chopped green or red bell pepper
    1/2 c. chopped green onions or red onion
    1 (20 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained
    1 cup grated cheddar cheese
    1/2 c. slivered almonds or sunflower seeds
    1/2 c. coconut (Cassie prefers it toasted)
    1 (2 oz.) jar pimento drained & diced (opt)
    (in 30 years I have never used pimento)

    My friends and I have also used:
    frozen peas, thawed in warm water
    sliced water chestnuts, chopped
    1 can of beans, drained
    cauliflower broken into small pieces
    raw sliced mushrooms
    grated carrots
    dry crushed Top Ramen noodles
    drained mandarin oranges
    raw or canned bean sprouts

    • Holly W says:

      Love that you posted the recipe from the Make-A-Mix cookbook! My mom always used those toppings too. So now I use the topping ideas from the cookbook and Mel’s sauce recipe. Excellent combination!

  40. Kerry Butler says:

    Has anyone ever tried adding a little lemon-pepper to the sauce? Curious to know.

  41. Brittney says:

    Made this tonight and it was so so delish! Def going on the family menu!

  42. Cassandra says:

    Hi. Love this and so many of your other recipes! Just a logistic request … As I make shopping lists I usually just quickly scroll through ingredient lists. However to really make this dish pop, you need toppings such as those you list in the directions. My request for recipes like this is to make note of those suggested toppings in the ingredients list so I can quickly make my shopping list and am not stuck up the creek when I get set to cook. Many thanks for all your efforts!

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