Chicken divan is a quasi-fancy dish invented in 1950s New York City at the Divan Parisienne restaurant in the Chatham Hotel (via Paste Magazine). Recipe developer Angela Latimer brings us this wonderfully easy recipe for that restaurant’s signature dish. "Leaked information from the maître d’hôtel suggests that the original recipe included poached chicken breasts, broccoli, and a cheesy Mornay sauce that included egg yolks for extra richness," Latimer told Mashed. Although some home cooks have taken to using "canned cream of something" soup to create the sauce, as Latimer put it, her recipe uses only fresh ingredients right out of the fridge.
"I like cooking from scratch," Latimer said, "and no one complains!" Ever the crowd pleaser, this dish can also be made with dark meat chicken. All you’ll need to do is adjust the cooking time accordingly, which will be easy if you’re using an instant read thermometer. Let’s begin!
Gather your ingredients for this classic chicken divan
For Latimer’s recipe for classic chicken divan, you’ll need four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, two bunches of broccoli (trimmed into florets as shown), one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, three tablespoons of butter, three tablespoons of all-purpose flour, one cup of chicken broth, half a cup milk or half-and-half, a third of a cup of cooking sherry (the kind you can buy in your grocery store in the aisle with the oils and vinegars and condiments), a cup of shredded cheddar cheese, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, half a teaspoon of nutmeg, and half a teaspoon of paprika. For the crunchy panko topping, which is optional, you’ll need a quarter cup each of panko breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese, plus one to two tablespoons of melted butter.
Latimer notes that you can substitute frozen broccoli florets for fresh in order to streamline this recipe. Just allow the frozen broccoli to defrost either in the fridge or under cool water. Additionally, if you don’t have sherry wine or do not want to use alcohol, you can use an equal amount of chicken broth to deglaze the pan.
In terms of equipment, you’ll need a frying pan or skillet and a 9×13-inch baking pan or similarly sized casserole dish.
Steam the broccoli and sear the chicken
Preheat your oven to 375 F, and steam the cut broccoli florets. You can steam the broccoli on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe dish covered with a tight-fitting lid or plastic cling film for two to five minutes with a tablespoon of water.
While you’re waiting for the broccoli to steam, place a large frying pan or nonstick skillet on the stove, add the olive oil, and set the heat to medium-high. Once the oil begins to shimmer, place the chicken into the skillet and sear the breasts for four to five minutes per side. Latimer pointed out that you’ll know you’re doing it right if the chicken sizzles the first time it touches the pan. If you’re not sure, start by letting just a corner of the chicken touch the pan. Since you won’t want to overcrowd the pan, cook the chicken in batches if necessary to allow space between the breasts.
Season both sides of the chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper, then transfer the chicken to a clean plate, and lower the heat under your pan to medium-low.
Deglaze the pan and create a roux
Deglazing a pan refers to adding liquid to a pan that you’ve used to sauté a protein in order to loosen and rehydrate the brown bits that your protein left in the pan. It’s one of the most important things you can do to create a flavorful sauce out of pan-seared protein.
To deglaze the pan for this classic chicken divan recipe, add your cooking sherry, scraping up any bits of chicken that have stuck to the pan and cooking them into the butter. To create your roux, which will be the foundation for your sauce, melt the butter in the pan. Once it’s melted completely, stir in the flour until the two are completely incorporated.
Add the chicken broth, milk, and cheese to your sauce
To transform the simple roux you made in the last step into sauce, gently whisk the cup of chicken broth in to it, and then add the milk or half-and-half, as shown in the image above-left. Turn up the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. Then add the seasoning and three quarters of the shredded cheddar cheese. Reserve the rest of the shredded cheddar cheese for sprinkling on top of the chicken before you bake it — even if you’re not planning on finishing with the crispy panko topping.
Assemble your classic chicken divan
Stir the cheddar cheese into the sauce to fully incorporate it, and then remove the pan from the heat. The sauce should look like the consistency you see in the photo above-right. If your sauce is too thick, you can thin it with broth or milk, one tablespoon at a time.
Now, get out your 9×13-inch baking pan or casserole dish and arrange the broccoli in a layer on the bottom. Top the broccoli with the chicken breasts, then pour the sauce that you just made in the previous step over the top of the chicken as shown in the right-hand image above.
Optionally make the crispy, cheesy panko breadcrumb topping
This step is only for if you’re planning on finishing this dish with the crispy, Parmesan-panko topping shown in the photo above, which you definitely shoukld, because it adds a delicious crunch to the otherwise soft dish.
In that case, here is what to do: In a separate small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and one to two tablespoons of melted butter. Using a fork, gently distribute this mixture over the top of the sauce.
Top the chicken with the remaining cheddar cheese and pop it in the oven
Now it’s time to top the whole dish with the remaining shredded cheddar cheese that you reserved. Then cover the dish loosely with foil, and pop it into the preheated oven. Set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the foil, and reset the timer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
When the timer goes off this time, use an instant read thermometer to make sure that your chicken has reached 165 F, which is the temperature it needs to be to be safe for consumption. If not, pop it back in the oven for another five to 10 minutes — until it reaches 165 F. As Latimer pointed out to Mashed, it could take as long as 40 minutes to cook large chicken breasts all the way through. And if you’re using another cut of chicken, or chicken on the bone, it could take longer.
In any event, when your chicken reaches 165 F, take the dish out of the oven, and allow it to cool for five minutes before serving over rice, pasta, or potatoes.
- 2 bunches of broccoli, cut into florets
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup sherry cooking wine
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ½ cup milk or half-and-half
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs, for optional panko topping
- ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for optional panko topping
- 1 to 2 tablespoons butter, for optional panko topping
- Preheat your oven to 375 F.
- Steam the broccoli on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- Bring a large frying pan or non-stick skillet to medium-high heat with the olive oil.
- Once the oil begins to shimmer, place the chicken breasts into the skillet and sear them for 4 to 5 minutes per side until golden.
- Season both sides of the chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper, and remove the chicken from the pan to a clean plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and deglaze the skillet with the cooking sherry or an extra ⅓ cup chicken broth.
- Add the butter and melt it completely.
- Stir the flour into the melted butter until it’s completely incorporated, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Gently whisk in the 1 cup chicken broth, then the milk or half-and-half.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer, then add the seasoning and three quarters of the shredded cheese.
- Thin the sauce with milk or broth, if desired, then remove the pan from the heat.
- In a 9×13-inch baking pan or large casserole dish, arrange the lightly steamed broccoli on the bottom and place the chicken breasts over the broccoli.
- Pour the sauce over top.
- Optionally combine the panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter in a small bowl.
- Spread the mixture over the top of the sauce on the chicken.
- Top all of it off with the remaining shredded cheddar cheese.
- Cover the dish loosely with foil, and bake for 25 minutes.
- Remove the foil, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken registers 165 F on an instant read thermometer.
- Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before serving.