Chicken Divan was one of the mid century dishes that my imagination went wild over. I mean what complicated swankiness must a dish called chicken Divan be with a name like that. It oozed elegance when the name left your mouth. So I was super surprised when I finally found out the dish is really just a casserole and a pretty easy one to make at that.
Who and where was the recipe created?
For the most part this is a simple question to answer. Despite the name, chicken Divan is not a classic French dish. Rather it was created at the Divan Parisien Restaurant at the Chatham Hotel in New York City which also has been credited with introducing Americans to broccoli. There is just no exact date when the dish was actually created as some sources say in the 1930s while other say the 1940s.
What ingredients are in Chicken Divan?
The original recipe is not know as the chef at Divan stubbornly refused to tell the exact recipe. As a result there are many different attempts and recipes trying to replicate the dish. The basic recipe is chicken breast served over broccoli with a sauce that is topped with Parmesan cheese then broiled in the oven. Some say the recipe uses both bechamel and hollandaise sauce which others just use a white sauce with sherry sometimes added. Also because this was the 1950s, you can find recipes that uses the convenience products of the day such as canned chicken, packaged hollandaise sauce and canned soup.
When was Chicken Divan popular?
It was HUGE in the 1950s as it was a favorite party dish and was considered quite swanky. A 1952 article states the reason why as “the dish makes an attractive appearance on the table. And it contains both meat and vegetable with sauce which is an important consideration when seeing a buffet meal.” In a 1950s article on the finest dining in New York City it was written that “if you like chicken, you’ll relish the chicken Divan served by the Divan Parisien”. A newspaper held a contest to find the best chicken recipes in 1955. What recipe won? Of course a recipe for chicken Divan where a one Mrs. Fletcher got a reward of $5.00.
By the 1960s, the popularity had waned considerably. A 1965 article remembers the dish as “it used to be that a dish like chicken Divan was something you went to a restaurant to order. Or else it might be served to important company or at a Sunday dinner or a celebration”. Though in 1969, President Nixon’s newly married daughter, Julie Eisenhower, made “the classic favorite” chicken Divan for him to celebrate his 56th birthday which according to the article was her “first dinner party and a rousing success”.
Why should I make this dish?
Well first off, the dish is chicken and broccoli slathered in a white sauce topped with delicious Parmesan cheese to create a dish that is oddly comforting for something that was served at fancy events. If you are planning a fifties dinner party, then I would give this dish a try. I was surprised how quickly and easily it comes together and still looks pretty with very little effort.
How do I make chicken Divan?
One of the most popular dinner party dishes from the 1950s! I like serving mine with a side of buttered noodles.
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream (can substitute milk)
- 2 tablespoon Sherry or white wine (can substitute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with a tablespoon of water)
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- salt to taste
- 3 to 4 chicken breast, cooked and sliced or cubed
- 4 cups of frozen broccoli, cooked and drained of any water
- 1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Over medium high heat, melt butter in a medium sauce pan.
- Add flour and stir for a minute.
- Slowly pour in chicken broth and cream while stirring constantly.
- Continue to cook and stir until sauce has thickened and can coat the back of a spoon.
- Stir in Sherry, nutmeg and pepper. Taste and see if salt needs to be added. Then pull of heat and set aside.
- In a 9×13 pan, place broccoli in an even layer. Then arrange the chicken on top.
- Slowly pour the white sauce over the broccoli and chicken and then top with Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until everything in heated and the cheese in melted.
- Use a decent quality Parmesan cheese as it is important that it will melt. Also you want to buy it either shredded or shaved not grated or buy a wedged and do it yourself.
- Be careful when salting the sauce as chicken broth can sometimes but salty and if you used salted butter as well. Also remember that you will be topping the whole thing with salty and delicious Parmesan cheese.
“Chicken ‘Divan Parisienne’ Wins First Prize for Mrs. Fletcher”. St. Petersburg Times, October 21, 1955.
“Chicken Divan Bride’s Treat At First Dinner for Nixon”. The Youngstown Vindacator. March 9, 1969.
“Elegant Dining With Ease is Secret of Chicken Divan: New Time Saving Recipe” Eugene Register-Guard. Feb. 25, 1965.
Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1995.
Mariani, John F. The Encyclopedia American Food and Drink. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013.
Roozen A. Fred. “Gourmet in Gotham”. The Rotarian. May 1959.
Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: Volume One. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.