Chicken divan is the ultimate old-school medley of chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce. It originated in the early 20th century in a New York hotel restaurant, Divan Parisienne, and it hits all the right notes: hearty, creamy, and comforting. While the type of cheese used varies from recipe to recipe, what is not negotiable is the use of cream sherry, which adds a tiny bit of sweetness and richness to the cheese sauce.
There's no doubt that this dish is rich, but this lightened-up version skips sour cream and condensed cream soups in favor of some chicken broth and milk for the sauce. And if you start with leftover cooked chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken, this casserole can be yours even on a busy weeknight.
Frozen broccoli is one of this reasons why this casserole is so easy. Cook it quickly in the microwave according to package directions, and it's ready to be combined with cooked chicken and covered in the cheese sauce. The only thing to remember is to drain it well after cooking so that it doesn't water down the sauce in the baking dish.
The panko breadcrumbs are a more modern topping (regular breadcrumbs or almonds are sometimes also used), but I like the welcome crunch it adds to this creamy, saucy casserole that's perfect over some steamed rice — its traditional accompaniment.
Chicken Divan Casserole
(16- to- 20-ounce) bag frozen broccoli florets
(1/2 stick) unsalted butter
low-sodium chicken broth
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
cubed (about 1-inch), cooked chicken (about 1 pound)
Coarsely chopped fresh parsley, for serving (optional)
Cooked white or brown rice, for serving
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F.
Place the broccoli in a large microwave-safe bowl and cook according to directions. (Alternatively, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add the broccoli, and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes.) Drain well and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the broth and milk, whisk until the flour is dissolved and the mixture is smooth, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 cup of the cheese until completely melted. Stir in the sherry and salt. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed — it should be highly seasoned because the broccoli and chicken are unseasoned; set aside.
Combine the broccoli and chicken in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Evenly pour the cheese sauce over it. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese and panko. Bake until bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes. Increase the heat to broil and broil until browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool 5 minutes, sprinkle with parsley if desired, and serve with rice.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Using rotisserie chicken: One rotisserie chicken usually yields about 3 cups of meat.