The South has long reigned supreme as casserole country, and we have a notorious reputation for using every canned "cream of" soup imaginable in our recipes. But the good news is that cooking from scratch is making a comeback (even south of the Mason Dixon). It turns out that whipping up a homemade casserole is a lot easier than you think.
Take Chicken Divan for example. Although it originated in New York at the Divan Parisien, Southern community cookbooks sure did take the original recipe and run. I found over four variations in just one of my favorite dog-eared "receipt" books, all featuring cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, AND sour cream. Sounds delightful, right. Right????
Since I try to keep processed foods to a minimum but still love cozy casseroles, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Turns out, all you need to do is reach into your French repertoire – thank you mother sauces – and whip up a super simple Mornay sauce (a béchamel sauce with the addition of cheese). Spike it with a little cream sherry and season with salt and pepper and your almost done. Pour the cheesy sauce over chicken and broccoli, sprinkle a little salty Parmesan on top for color, and bake. Ta da! Easy, breezy casserole, just in time for fall.
Chicken Divan Casserole
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (approximately 2 pounds)
2 heads of broccoli (approximately 2 1/2 - 3 pounds)
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups scalded milk
1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
1 cup grated Gruyère
3 tablespoons cream sherry
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Add chicken breasts to a large pot. Add water to cover, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Simmer until cooked through, and internal temperature has reached 160 °F. Remove chicken from pot, reserving broth. Cool and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. (Feel free to use 4 cups of rotisserie or leftover chicken, if desired.)
Stem broccoli and cut into 1 – 2 inch florets. Bring chicken broth back to a boil and add broccoli (adding water if necessary). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broccoli is bright and tender, about 2 – 3 minutes. Strain broccoli and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt butter in a thick sauce pan on medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth (and flour taste is cooked out), about three minutes. Reduce heat to low. Pour in scalded milk and cook until thickened, approximately three to five minutes. Mix in 1/2 cup of Parmesan and one cup of Gruyère and stir until creamy. Add sherry, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
Butter the bottom and sides of an oblong casserole dish. Layer half of the broccoli and chicken and cover with half of the cheese sauce. Repeat. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan on casserole and bake until bubbly and golden brown, approximately 35 - 40 minutes. Serve with white rice.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)