November 11, 2011 by Sara Kreidler
Most recipes for chicken divan (or “the cheesy chicken-broccoli-rice thing,” as our kids call it) recommend serving the chicken-broccoli-sauce mixture over rice, but Toby always mixes it into the rice and then tops it with cheese and bakes it as a casserole. This is the ultimate comfort food, and it is one of the first things Toby ever made for me (at a time when I was especially in need of comfort, no less).
Most recipes for chicken divan also call for condensed cream of mushroom soup, or cream of chicken, or cream of broccoli, and/or milk or mayo to make the sauce. And until recently, we always used a mixture of cream of chicken soup and milk to make the sauce. We use very little in the way of processed food anymore, and we’re trying to rework the handful of favorite recipes that do include processed foods in the mix. So for the first time, we eliminated the condensed cream of chicken soup and instead made cheese sauce from scratch.
Cheese sauce is just béchamel sauce with some parmesan whisked in at the end; this is sometimes referred to in cookbooks as “mornay sauce” but our friend Chef Joe said that that’s pretentious and we should just call it cheese sauce, and so cheese sauce it is. Anyway, the cheese sauce is really easy to make and it honestly tastes much better than the cream of chicken soup mix, so we’ve completely converted. Owen agreed it tastes better with the cheese sauce; Oona didn’t really care one way or the other, she was more concerned with separating the rice from the chicken from the broccoli and picking off the layer of melted cheese (oh, such is the life of a six year old).
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 cups cooked white rice
- 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets, stems discarded (or reserved for another use)
- 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high flame. Add the cut up chicken, season with salt and pepper and brown chicken on all sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
- In a small sauce pan, warm the milk over medium low flame. In a clean, medium sized skillet, melt the butter over medium flame. Add the flour and cook 2-3 minutes until a paste is formed. Slowly add the warm milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Once a creamy sauce has formed, season with salt and pepper, reduce and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the parmesan and whisk until well combined.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, rice, broccoli, cheese sauce, and 2 cups of grated cheddar and mix well. If it seems a bit too sticky, add a little bit (a half cup or less) of warm milk and mix well. Transfer mixture to a 13×9 pyrex baking dish and top with remaining cup of grated cheddar. Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes.