When quarantine rules hit, I started searching frantically for recipes that mostly relied on very plentiful and/or pantry ingredients.
I was not super interested in cooking things for the first time as I felt my family needed some good, homemade, warm meals to provide some certainty and comfort during uncertain times.
So, there was not much room for error or mess-ups at mealtime. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a picky or ungrateful crew so most everything I throw together gets consumed with gusto. I just feel that my role as chief meal provider is a pretty serious one. After all, how can we function efficiently without good homemade food to fuel us?
Enter my mom’s recipe for Chicken Divan. It’s a family favorite that I have been eating and making since childhood.
Since the quarantine rules officially landed, I have made this casserole several times for my family. It is so easy, practical, comforting, versatile AND able to be thrown together with freezer or pantry ingredients, so I wanted to share it here.
It is also on the low-carb and healthy side although I know many people don’t consider cream of chicken soup or mayonnaise “healthy.” Still, as casseroles go, I find this one to be one of the most healthy ones around.
A Word About the Ingredients
I find that this dish works best if you start with fresh, uncooked broccoli, but I have made it with frozen and it is good too. I sometimes even throw in green beans or other vegetables I have on hand. You would just want to be sure they are larger (so, probably no peas) or they could cook too fast and get mushy.
I typically just poach (boil in salted water for 10-15 mins) the chicken breasts, allow them to cool and then chop or shred the meat. I love doing this a day or two in advance so when the time comes to make this casserole, I only have to shred some cheese, assemble everything and throw it in the oven. But certainly you could use any cooked chicken you have on hand including a store-bought rotisserie.
Fresh lemon juice is better but using bottled will work. Also, I have seen that some people omit the curry powder. I honestly think it is what makes the dish so special, but you do you! If you omit the curry powder, be sure to add in some other spices or seasonings (like maybe garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper) for flavor.
You can use pretty much any type of cracker, but I like to use butter crackers or saltines. But you could substitute with bread crumbs or even potato chips.
Can I Make Chicken Divan with Pantry Ingredients?
Yes! One of the reasons I have been making this dish so much lately is that it can be made with mostly pantry ingredients. Of course it is better with the freshest ingredients but it is also very good with substitutes like:
- Frozen broccoli, green beans or mixed vegetables (or mixture of all!)
- Canned chicken (substitute 2-3 large cans)
- Bottled lemon juice
What about the cheese?
Well, obviously cheese is NOT a “pantry ingredient.” Here’s what I do. I buy a bunch of my favorite cheddar and freeze it. Now, I have found that cheese tends to dry out a little when you freeze it, so it is best to freeze it for no longer than 2-3 weeks. It’s not something that “freezes well” but it certainly works in a pinch.
And I would say that a global pandemic qualifies as “a pinch,” don’t you think?
How to Make Chicken Divan
First, layer the broccoli over the bottom of the casserole dish. If using fresh broccoli, put it in raw (uncooked) and if using frozen, put it in frozen (do not thaw first). I used frozen for the one in the photo!
Next, spread out the cubed chicken over the broccoli.
Then, mix up your sauce ingredients in a small bowl and pour and spread evenly over chicken.
Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top.
Pulverize (fancy word for smash) the crackers by placing in a sealed ziploc and punching into crumbs.
Sprinkle cracker crumbs over the top of the cheese.
Drizzle melted butter evenly over the crumbs.
Bake covered at 350 for 45 minutes, uncovering for the last 10 minutes to finish.
You can serve with crusty bread, noodles or rice but we typically eat this all by itself.
Here’s the recipe! Enjoy!
- 3 large (about 1.5-2 lbs) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed or shredded
- 3 to 4 heads broccoli, uncooked fresh, chopped into florets (or frozen)
- 2 to 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese, cheddar
- 10-12 crackers (saltines, butter crackers, etc.) pulverized into crumbs
- 2-3 tbsp butter, melted
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup, 10 1/2 ounce cans
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tbsp lemon juice, from about half a lemon
- Spread broccoli in bottom of casserole pan.
- Spread chicken evenly over broccoli.
- Mix sauce ingredients together.
- Pour sauce over chicken.
- Cover with shredded cheese.
- Sprinkle cracker crumbs over the top of cheese and drizzle with melted butter.
- Bake covered at 350 for 45 minutes, taking cover off for the last 10 minutes to finish.
- Fresh broccoli is best but can use frozen. If using fresh, put it in raw (uncooked) and if using frozen, do not thaw first.
- If needed, can use bottled lemon juice and canned shredded chicken (2 large cans).
- Any crackers will do although I prefer using saltines or butter crackers. You could also use breadcrumbs or potato chips.
- I always use cheddar but you could substitute your favorite cheese.
- This makes a very large casserole – fills a deep 10×15 casserole dish. You could easily cut the recipe in half and make a smaller dish.