~ A Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole ~
Chicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added). It was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is how I encountered it. When I got married in 1974, it was one of the first meals I cooked out of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (p. 306), which was my 1st cookbook and a bridal shower gift, and afterward, from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (p. 264), which I purchased myself. Both versions are scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise) and are very tasty.
Chicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi. He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish. In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance. In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans). Photo courtesy of Card Cow.
When I was a young bride and just starting to entertain, chicken divan (dī-van) was one of my favorite go-to all-occasion casseroles. It is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner. It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles and served at a fancier gatherings too. There's more. It can be served with or atop toast points, buttered noodles or steamed rice -- buttered noodles are my favorite.
Note: The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, when served with toast points, buttered noodles or rice, will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers (they reheat great in the microwave), do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders, about 10 tenders
1 pound frozen broccoli florets, preferably medium-large, not chopped broccoli
3 14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth, or 5 1/2-6 cups homemade stock, for poaching chicken and broccoli (Note: Plain, nicely salted water can be substituted, but I like the added flavor that stock or broth lends to the chicken and the broccoli. There's more. I don't waste a bit of it, meaning: I don't pour it down the drain. I add some water to it, to get the necessary amount needed, and, I boil my egg noodles in it too.)
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
a scant 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
a scant 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2-3/4 teaspoons white pepper
1 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion
1/4 cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish
For the topping:
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko
toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed white rice, your choice
~Step 1. Place the chicken stock in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the chicken tenders, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer, and "poach" until just cooked through, about 9-10 minutes. Do not overcook. Turn heat off. Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a plate to cool, about 15 minutes, until you can handle it with your hands. Using you fingers, pull the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
~Step 2. Return the saucepan of remaining stock to a simmer and add the frozen broccoli florets. Adjust heat to a steady simmer and partially cook it, until it is just thawed, 1 1/2-2 minutes. Using the same Asian spider or large slotted spoon, transfer it to a colander and rinse it under cold running water, to halt the cooking process. Allow to drain thoroughly, giving the colander an occasional shake every five minutes or so for about 15 minutes. Set aside.
~Step 3. In the same saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, then, using a large spoon, stir in the spices (ground cloves, ground nutmeg sea salt and white pepper). Add the onion and increase heat to medium and cook until onion is tender, about 1 minute.
~Step 4. Stir in the flour. Stirring constantly, cook for 1 full minute. The roux will be very pasty. Add the sherry then the cream (milk or half & half) and adjust heat to simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly until nicely-thickened but drizzly, about 2 minutes. Lower heat to low and stir in the Gruyère. Stir constantly until a thick Mornay sauce has formed, about 1 more minute. Remove from heat.
~Step 5. Place the poached chicken pieces and blanched broccoli florets in a large bowl. Add all of the hot Mornay sauce to the bowl. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the sauce, until everything is evenly enrobed in sauce. Do not over mix. Do not risk breaking the chicken or broccoli into smaller pieces. Using the spatula, transfer all of the mixture to an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray. Set aside while preparing topping.
~ Step 6. In a 1-cup measuring container, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in microwave. Stir in the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the top of the casserole.
~ Step 7. Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until golden brown on top and bubbling around edges, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Use rest time to make toast points, cook egg noodles or steam rice.
Chicken, broccoli & Mornay mixture in 11" x 7" x 2" casserole:
Special Equipment List: 4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; ordinary tablespoon
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)