Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chicken Divan Casserole

I'm baaaaack! My 4 hour computer repair is finally done (two weeks later). Time to get that backlog of recipe pictures off of my camera! I hope I didn't leave anyone stranded with their pepper seeds during the blackout. More seed starting coming in a little while, but for now, let's eat!

This recipe comes from Saveur 98. I dug the magazine out of my "to read" pile (and am a little embarassed that number 98 was issued in December 2006 -- it's a big pile). It sure is a nice issue though, and this feature on casseroles is the star of the show. It is a detialed article with several casserole classics (many of which you can snag straight from the Saveur website! BONUS!). It even has a nice discussion of Corning Ware (who knew it also makes great nose cones for guided missiles?!). Finally, it documents the rise and fall of the casserole empire (which we are told was conquered by T.V. dinners and Hamburgur Helper). Great stuff! A classic!

ANYWAY, here we are at Chicken Divan, named for a New York City restaurant called Divan Parisien where it was a specialty. You'll need two chicken breast halves, a head of broccoli, about 5 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of flour, a cup of chicken stock, a cup of milk, a splash of sherry (ok, 3 tablespoons -- and a bit more for tasting), some nutmeg, about 1/2 cup of grated parm, 1 cup of slivered almonds, and 1/2 cup of whipping cream. I'm exhausted just typing all that out, but don't worry -- this recipe is easy and fun! (In true 1970s casserole spirit, you could probably replace most of the middle stuff with a can of mushroom soup, but we won't do that, will we?)

The first task is to fry the chicken. Just pop it in a pan over medium and sizzle away in a blob of oil for about 15 minutes. You just want to cook it through and brown it up a little. You may as well fire-up the oven to 375 before you forget (like I always do).

Pop the chicken on a plate to cool while you do everything else.

We're going to make a bechamel sauce -- a pretty basic sauce that you can use for all kinds of stuff. The idea is to melt a bunch of butter, add some flour to make a thin paste (or roux if you prefer), then add milk to dissolve that paste and cook it down a little to create a thick, creamy sauce. So, lets melt that butter (4-5 tablespoon ballpark here).

Then whisk in 1/4 cup of flour a little at a time.

Once the flour is thoroughly incorporated into the butter, you're ready for the milk.

Gradually add the cup of milk while whisking constantly. Then add the stock, half of the parm, some salt and pepper, and a healthy grating of nutmeg. Interestingly enough, I dug Saveur 134 out of my "to read pile" a day later, and they have this whole feature on nutmeg in there. Did you know Grenada has nutmeg on their flag? I thought we were freaky for having a leaf, but nutmeg is take-the-cake cool. This sauce needs to bubble away and thicken up for about 10 minutes on gentle heat. That gives you time to whirl-wind through all the following steps.

First, chop your chicken breasts on an angle into nice slices. Then steam your broccoli for about two minutes and...

...put it down as the base layer in a buttered casserole dish.

Then add the other half of your grated parm.

Put the chicken on top of that.

Sprinkle on a layer of slivered almonds, and get ready for the final steps of the sauce by...

...whipping the 1/2 cup of cream (THERE'S WHIPPED CREAM IN THIS! COULD IT BE BETTER?!)

Stir the sherry into your bechamel (I hope you've been sipping the sherry too. My Gran said that Harvey's Bristol Cream was always a reliable way to get her appetite back whenever she was feeling down. All I can say is that I think it's great stuff, and I can confirm that I was pretty hungry after a few belts too). Stir the whipped cream into the sauce while you're having all of these great thoughts.

Pour your rich and yummy beyond belief sauce over the casserole.

And bake it at 375 for 30 minutes (if your casserole dish is a little shallow, something to catch any bubble-over is a good idea).

Dish up and enjoy with rice or egg noodles. This dish was a hit with the kids. I found the broccoli cream combo to be somehow comforting and a little weird at the same time. The almonds are a key part of the dish, by the way -- they give a nice little crunch to what would otherwise be a big bowl of goop. Are you sold yet? I was, and it's a repeat for sure. 

Afterwards, please reward yourself with a well earned beer (to wash down all that sherry and stuff). How do you like my cool new beer jug from Beau's? It holds almost 2 litres! Oh yeah!! This will be a joy on the picnic table, where the beer will be kept cool and out of the sun. Where do these genius people keep coming from?

Bye for now, and bon appetit!

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