Chicken Divine ‡

Chicken Divan got its name as the signature dish of the bygone New York restaurant, the Divan Parisienne in the Chatham Hotel, in the early to mid-twentieth century. It was so named* because, in French (via Turkey), divan means a meeting place or great hall, and the owners wanted a name that would infer continental elegance. It was a simple dish of poached chicken breast laid across a bed of broccoli and smothered in a bubbly hot, rich cheese-and-cream sauce. It was reputed to be a great dining experience.

However, in about 1950, Chicken Divan Parisienne became popular elsewhere, becoming simply Chicken Divan and mutating into quicker and blander casserole versions served in many households, where a can of Cream of Chicken (or Mushroom) soup usurped the richer cream sauce. It is probably in this form that the dish finds its rifest preparation today. I have also seen recipes using mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, curry, bread crumbs, and white wine.

My introduction to the dish was at my not-yet wife Camilla’s apartment early in our dating ritual, invited for dinner and Monday Night Football*. I must say that I was not so impressed with it then, being a bit bland for my Southwestern upbringing. It remained so until years later, when I decided to emulate Emeril Lagasse and “kick it up a notch.” The purist reader may certainly find the original recipe via the internet; the one here fits my taste and diet better.

  • 8 good-sized florets of broccoli
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 chicken thighs, skinned and boned
  • 6 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp low sodium chicken base or bouillon cube
  • 1 cup nonfat half-and-half cream
  • 1 tbsp buttery flavored powder (e.g., ButterBuds®)
  • ½ cup nonfat sour cream
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp ground cayenne chile
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp low-sodium Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup medium-dry sherry
  • ½ tsp <salt>
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup Asiago cheese, grated
  • 1 oz slivered almonds
  • Tabasco® sauce

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Put the broccoli florets in a covered microwave dish with 1 tbsp water and nuke for one minute at the highest setting. Remove from the microwave and set aside.

Brown the chicken thighs in the olive oil and then put them in the oven while the sauce is being made. Remove the chicken after about 10 minutes, when it should be mostly, but not completely, done.

In a small saucepan put the flour, water, chicken base (or bouillon cube), cream, and buttery powder. Stir with a whisk until there are no more lumps of flour in the mixture. Turn on the heat to medium and bring to a light boil, stirring constantly. Let the simmering continue for about 2 minutes until the floury taste subsides. Beat in the sour cream, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, lemon, low-sodium Worcestershire <salt> and pepper. Remove from heat. The mixture should be thickened and smooth. Cover and keep warm over very low heat.

Distribute the broccoli within a vegetable-oil-sprayed ceramic baking dish and sprinkle it with a ¼ cup of the cheese. Slice the chicken thinly, in ¼” slices and arrange the chicken meat on top of the broccoli.

Whisk the sauce and pour it over chicken and broccoli. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and nuts. Bake for about 20 minutes or until heated through and the chicken is now completely done. Turn the oven to broil, re-rack the dish if necessary, and cook for a few minutes until top has turned golden brown. Plate the dish and sprinkle with a little Tabasco®, to taste. Serve with salt on the side for your less hypertensive guests.

Serves two.