Thursday Night Smackdown: The Horror, Y'all. The Horror.


Lock your doors, pull down the window shades and turn off the lights: Paula Deen & Friends are Living It Up, Southern Style with “Chicken Divan” and you DO NOT want to be there when it happens. I was there and I will never be the same. MAY YOU ALL LEARN FROM MY MARTYRDOM ON THE ALTAR OF BEST DISHES.

Somewhere, Edna Lewis is rolling in her grave with such force that the Chinese should be warned that her corpse may suddenly shoot out of the ground like a horrified torpedo, her mouth open in a soundless scream.

Unquestionably the best part of Chicken Divan.

Why should classically trained chefs who prepare exciting, inventive food get all the Smackdown love?* Down-home comfort cooking has its place, and can be darn tasty. Just because a dish requires two cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup doesn’t make it bad, does it?** I’ve had this Paula Deen book on my shelf since Christmas 2006, when I received it as what I must assume was a joke, and thought it was about time it got some use. Enough Smackdown discrimination, all continents must be explored.

Le Sigh.

I should have sensed this was a bad idea from the very cover of the book, which features Paula holding an enormous pitcher of mint juleps of which she has clearly been partaking. Her plastic smile and dead, dead eyes are chilling.

I could have chosen a dish that was more…edible, but I wanted a classic Paula dish with classic Paula ingredients and techniques. Chicken Divan is a chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole with some brilliant Paula touches. Where “brilliant” means “horrifying” and “touches” means “brain-searing nightmare.” I’ll spare you the blunt trauma of describing the whole recipe at once, and will let it unfold naturally drop by painful drop.

*Maybe because their food is good?


Why bother to thaw? Don’t you remember, we’re LIVING IT UP!

As noted above, the chicken was, in fact, the best part of this meal. Of course, this isn’t because I perfectly roasted a chicken, but because the pre-cooked rotisserie chicken I bought was pretty good. Why bother to prepare it yourself when the grocery store will do it for you? Thank you, Paula, for relieving me of this onerous burden so that I may more effectively Live It Up.

Other helpful Paula recipes that I opted not to tackle include buttermilk biscuits (“Do yourself a huge favor and pick up frozen Pillsbury Oven-Baked Buttermilk Biscuits. Hide the bag and take the bows!”) and chicken fingers (“Purchase from a favorite restaurant, like Chick-fil-A.”). Unfortunately, there are no Chick-fil-A “restaurants” near my apartment. Maybe I’ll climb that hill next Thursday.

No point in using fresh broccoli either – all the washing, chopping, steaming; what am I, a machine?

FYI, the next photo is not safe for young children, the elderly or those with heart conditions.


Behold, the heart of the dish, the steaming demon breath-hardened bedrock on which Chicken Divan is built: the unholy trinity of Paula Deen. Mayo, sour cream, condensed cream soups.

It gets worse.


Did anyone else suddenly get a chill?

This is the most horrific photo of food I have ever taken. A study in shades of white that should never mingle in these quantities. I said 3 Hail Marys and an Our Father to absolve myself of committing this to film.

Oh, NOW it’s okay.

Into the soup-cream-mayo goes lemon juice, curry powder, salt and pepper, copious quantities of sharp cheddar cheese and, of course, white wine. I used the wine I felt most appropriate to the occasion, Charles Shaw (aka “Three-Buck Chuck”) chardonnay.

I whisked everything together on autopilot; if my mind had actually been aware of what my hands were doing, it would never have let me continue. If my mind had been aware I might also have become concerned at the complete lack of any type of binder – no bread crumbs, no egg, nothing. And as far as I know, mayo is not known for firming up when baked.

But I wasn’t worried at all. Because, you know, Living It Up.

Wait, I take that back.

I poured the sauce over the chicken and broccoli, mixed everything together and scraped it into a baking dish. I also suggested to Brian that if we were to start drinking heavily at this point, we might be drunk enough to really enjoy dinner by the time it was done baking.

We had a good chuckle. Which is too bad, because we SHOULD have gotten drunk.

Spin, Edna. Spin.

Finally! Butter!

The casserole is topped with more cheese mixed with breadcrumbs and dotted with butter before going into the oven for about a half-hour, which is more than enough time to think about what you’ve done and start going through the take-out menus.

After 15 minutes or so, we began to hear sizzling from the oven and a vaguely food-like smell began wafting through the apartment. When the timer finally went off, the casserole was bubbly and sizzling but the topping was still wan and pale. I broke my own rules and deviated from the instructions ever so slightly, turning on the broiler to give the top some crisp and color.

Upon exiting the oven, things still seemed (not surprisingly) runny. I let the casserole sit, cool and hopefully congeal while I steeled myself to eat. Maybe it will be good, in the way that secretly Hamburger Helper can be good! Cheesy! Salty! Chickeny!

Deep breath. Deep breath.

I scooped some into a bowl. And I ate it, I did.

Goddamit! I was promised Living Up!

And then I stopped, because I will only go so far for this blog.

Chicken Divan is vile. Or in Paula-speak “It’s vaaaaaahl, y’all!”* A frightening amalgam of rich, semi-bland, viscous foods that manages to be tasteless and disgusting all at the same time which, I admit, is quite a feat so points for that. I was expecting it to be very, very VERY bad. AND IT WAS WORSE. The badness was LITERALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, and I’ve eaten fish noodles.

Is Chicken Divan some kind of cosmic joke? Is Paula Deen laughing all the way to the bank? Is she actually a Food Network-controlled automaton sculpted out of Crisco? We may never know, and it’s probably better for us if we never find out.

Final Score: I forfeit.

*Seriously, have syllables not made it to her part of Georgia yet?

63 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: The Horror, Y'all. The Horror.

  1. I hope you don’t mind, but I contributed this to one of my favorite eGullet topics:
    I think you’ll find some of the entries there will have you begging for Chicken Divan. I only had the pleasure of seeing an ad-slash-cooking demo on The Food Network by Paula Deen, but that was more than enough. She sounded dead inside, it chilled me to the bone.
    By the way, I totally pictured that second paragraph. Oh my God.

  2. Oh my goodness, you deserve a medal for your courage! To attempt a Paula Deen masterpiece? I am in awe. I am more than ever in awe of your greatness.

    Paula Deen? She grates on me, especially after I saw that Iron Chef episode with her in it. She was flirting quite vulgarly with Robert Irvine. It was quite. . .well, like this chicken divan.

  3. no binding at all? oh dear! i can think of many ways to improve that recipe…getting rid of the soup crap is the first thing, the mayo next…keep the sour cream, afterall, my heritage is german.

    let’s see…a nice roux based cream sauce with some curry spice, a bit of chili and some cayenne…bread crumbs…mushrooms (because they’re yummy), fresh brocoli (never the frozen crap, it only takes about 10 minutes to get enough brocolli ready), cheese (of course, but perhaps some nice asiago and parmissan mixed in as well), maybe some wostershire sauce…oh, the chicken of course…hey, if there’s any gravy leftover (like from making a roasted or fried chicken) use it too.

    i think mine sounds so much better than hers.

  4. Oh my god, you crack my shit UP!!! I love your blog, and it’s because of posts like this. And joke Paula Dean all you want– even though her food has probably induced like six billion heart attacks, she is totally laughing all the way to the bank. Even if she loses her show, you know the mayonaise industry has got her back.

  5. being from oz, i am only now becoming familiar with the greasy horror of paula deen…thanks for the warning!

  6. Your description of the cover of the cookbook made me laugh so loud, Groom woke up at the other end of the house.
    Paula Deen steps on every last nerve I have. I’ve endured dishes like this for years having grown up in the South. I even worked in a “tea room” for several years. Of course I was young and obviously desparate for money, but I have never in my life seen more people eat more processed food products and pay top dollar for them. Of course the chicken divan was served with a frozen strawberry cool whip salad.
    I could go on but I feel a little woozy discussing it. Where’s my chai tea and scone?

  7. Chicken Divine is a truly lovely dish, and it literally is unspeakable that you are making yours from the Paula Dean cookbook.

    Paula Dean is to southern cooking as diarhettic cow manure is to honeyed whip cream. Just don’t do it.

    I have a recipe for chicken divine (divan is simply the way we southern’s say “divine” (smirks)) that would make you orgasm to eat it. Thank you for your comments via Edna Lewis, it dilutes the horror of having the filth above disseminated in the name of southern cooking.

  8. Wow. Really, wow. She managed to make what is essentially a casarole the most disgusting looking think ever.And who the hell bakes mayo?
    So, um, what did you guys get for take-out?

    PS – you are a champ.

  9. I imagine a dish has to totally bomb if it sucks with butter and cheese in it. It’s like chicken mac and cheese gone wrong. Congrats on taking one for the team here… I would of the given the eulogy if anything bad happened to you.

  10. Oh dear. My sister once had a themed party featuring all those old “dump” recipes (a box of this and a can of that and always, always, the ubiquitous cream of chicken soup for the savories and usually a cake mix combined with jello for the sweets).

    Oddly, people just ATE THAT CRAP UP. And the kids, all of whom had been raised in houses that had never seen store-bought salad dressing let alone tuna noodle casserole, pigged out as if they had been locked in a cellar and fed only moldy bread and water for years.

    That said, I do have fond memories of my Mom’s pork chops on rice (yes, it has a can of cream of chicken soup in it).

  11. What a horrible, horrible waste of good butter and cheese. Thanks for soldiering on, even after cracking open the condensed soup.

    As a southerner, my face is red. And NO, it’s not my blood pressure.

  12. I’m with CK — I want to know what you guys ended up getting for dinner.

    I once made a tortilla casserole from her show that looked like it might be good, and after tinkering with it (who can actually make bland Tex-Mex? Paula can!) I started getting good reviews from it. I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that by the time I was serving it to actual family, the only thing the same between my adaptation and hers was that both contained tortillas.

  13. Flashbacks to my college cafeteria. I can still remember the post-Thanksgiving dinner turkey divan (my college cafeteria used to serve a full turkey dinner to students the week before Thanksgiving). I can still remember how it looked on the plate next to the little dishes of overcooked vegetables.

    I have the aforementioned cookbook. Thanks for the heads up on what not to try. I don’t hate Paula. When she’s good, she’s really good, but she does tend to veer into white trash territory and as the FN gets more dumbed down, she seems to go there more often.

    Chicken divan is one of those foods I can eat a lot of because it (as my grandmother used to say) “goes down easy”. Then I find myself asking, “Did I really eat all of that and WHY?” It’s not that I really enjoyed it all that much, but somehow I just eat and eat.

  14. wow, I can’t believe you went through all the trouble of making it! Although I like some of those ingredients separately, having all in one dish is insanity :)
    I had a seared chicken breast instead last night: so much lighter!

  15. I applaud your bravery. I’ve endured this type of thing at one too many family potluck dinners to even attempt the recipe as a joke.

    But why she called for real cheddar instead of Cheez Whiz, I’ll never know.

  16. I love reading your bloag and this post especially is my favorite so far. Both my husband and I question the mastermind of PD and your attempt in making her chicken divan is just one example of many why.

  17. manggy, i don’t mind at all! spreading the horror around helps me to feel better.

    naomi, yours does sound better. and nothing at all like hers.

    canary, that’s totally what i was thinking the whole time!

    fuzzy, i know it’s horrific. but i did it for the greater good, in case someone else out there had been contemplating one of her recipes.

    CK and peter, pizza. fast, comforting, consistently good.

    rachel, what does she do that’s good? i’m not trying to be funny, i really want to know. have you ever made the appetizer where you put cheese on a cracker, wrap it in bacon and bake it for 2 hours? i’ve always wanted to know about that one.

  18. yikes i just had flash backs of my southern grandma’s food but one thing my wonderful southern grandma could do was make a mean canned tomato juice and bloody mary mix! She says it will cure all even the meanest hangover and she is sooo right!

  19. That looks like something they’d serve at a 1970s cocktail party with mini gherkin garnishes.

    Hello Ma’am, would you like some chicken with your diary? I bet people make this though and love it up. People like the fat! Hence the weirdo bacon fetishes that abound.

  20. i’m glad to see that this was just as much of a disaster as you foretold. i’m also glad to see the token black woman on paula deen’s cookbook cover. ah, the joys of equal representation!

  21. I probably would stick to Paula’s baked goods. I mean there when you add a pound of butter it probably tastes divine (not divan)

  22. Thanks for taking the Paula Deen punch for us on this one. It looks as bad as you made it sound, and your pictures usually have me licking my screen.

    As for good Paula Deen recipes, my friend Lia loves PD’s “Gooey Pumpkin Cakes.” And Paula’s Gorilla Bread is actually disgustingly good. My friend Andrea made it for a “Food You Love But Are Ashamed Of” party I threw last year. I couldn’t stop gorging on canned dough and butter.

    But I’m not so sure you want to take my word on this. I happen to like most recipes using Cream of Mushroom soup.

  23. I have several better homes and gardens cookbooks from the 60’s in which pretty much every recipe requires condensed cream soups and/or “american cheese product.” I thought that once I got all those n my shelf, my days of finding recipes with “cream of” soups would be over. But Paula keeps it alive!!

    hilarious stuff.

  24. erin, why are you saying bacon fetish like it’s a bad thing?

    joy, mayo is an equal opportunity food.

    claudia, how could i possibly inflict this on the dogs? do YOU want to spend the next week picking up the shit of dogs who ate this? i thought not.

    i’m still a little surprised at just how terrible it was. it’s like ann said above, sometimes people eat this shit up; goodness knows i’ve eaten a tuna casserole or two in my day. but this was beyond the pale.

  25. Oh my God!!!
    My ex used to force me to make this dish for him.
    I hated it with a passion! It’s gross on so many levels.
    But his “Mother used to make it when he was little.”
    For the love. It’s evil, evil, evil.
    Guess this is reason number 302 why he’s my ex!

  26. *snort* I love your blog (had the goat cheese orzo last night, was delicious)…but this “dish” looks fucking disgusting. Paula Dean scares me.

    Are you experiencing a cold snap where you are? Just the thought of turning on the oven makes me want to go sit in front of an air conditioning vent somewhere.

  27. i’m confused as to why you chose this dish in the first place. it seems to me that, given the ingredients list and such, you were predestined to hate this dish. in your shoes i would have forgone the entire process and blogged about that crack-infused pizza.

  28. God I swear that woman is drunk of her ass at all times- particularly when coming up with “recipes” like these. I felt my arteries clogging by viewing the pictures alone.

    Hilarious fucking post though. For some reason smackdown tragedies are always the funniest….Is that bad?

  29. erinn, that clearly qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

    ernie, the smackdown is all about exploring the world of cookbooks. someone decided this recipe was worthy of inclusion, so it’s fair game. that, and it amuses me.

  30. Goodness gracious sakes alive! I bet you suffered from a severe case of “hot-dog fingers” after ingesting that sodium laden feast! I hope you tossed the cookbook along with the casserole.

    This totally reminds me of an old college roommate who LOVED to make Tater Tot Casserole. Wretched…. just wretched.

  31. holy shit. i almost gagged when i looked at the pictureof the frozen broccoli in the shredded chicken. then i almost gagged again when i saw the final product. is this woman a product of 1950’s cooking or WHAT!!?!??!

    i’m proud of you for trying. but now you know. put the book far, far away.

  32. I thought my work cafeterias turkey divan was bad.Think a slice of proceesed turkey lunch meat wrapped around a frozen broccoli stalk, then covered with metled American cheese.
    I dont see how Paula still can walk the earth eating like that. And shame on me for never having heard of Edna Lewis. Im off to research her more.

  33. Great post! One of your best yet. I’m not a fan of PD, but someone must like her food because she’s a zillionzire! Actually, I’ve only tried a few of her savory dishes. Not very good. I just don’t like to cook with all those gunky ingredients. I have, however, made several of her desserts and cakes and been pleased. I love her sour cream pound cake.

    I’m having a big garage sale in a few weeks. You could put your book right next to my Rachael Ray collection! ;)

  34. To quote a well-known war flick: the horror… the horror…

    Apropos of nothing, I have a visceral reaction to the sound of Paula Deen’s voice — it makes me want to stab things. It would make a great trigger for sleeper agents.

  35. candace, you think i ATE that shit?

    zenchef, terrifying.

    courtney, shame indeed! get her book, stat!

    elle, this could be a weight management breakthrough!

    carolyn, hah.

  36. So wait… was it WORSE than the fish noodles?? Cause that would be an astounding feat indeed.

    Also: “Her plastic smile and dead, dead eyes are chilling.”

    I am always telling people she looks like a fucking psycho. Like she’s just going to snap one day and stab her entire staff to death with a utility knife. Still smiling that toothsome freaky smile the whole damn time.

  37. This just looks disgusting. You were brave to eat it.
    My mother in law gave me a recipe for Chicken Divan that she got from one of the Nixon daughers in the 60s. My husband and son love it, and using poached chicken & fresh broccoli it is not too bad. Sure it has canned cream of chicken, mayo and a metric a$$load of cheese, but it’s darn tasty over rice (make it brown rice to help process all that cheese).
    I just discovered this blog linked from cookeatFRET. Very entertaining!

  38. melissa, way, way worse. the fish noodles were edible, they just had a creepy texture and were not nearly as flavorful as we thought they’d be. this? is a horror in every sense of the word.

    erika, welcome! glad you like it here, hope you’ll be back!

  39. oh god…that one pic looks like vomit…i was wondering where the butter was until i got to that pic. sorry you had to endure this…god bless you…

  40. That’s funny, because this weekend I think I had Chicken Divan’s evil cousin–Turkey Supreme. This is apparently a “regional specialty” in the part of Minnesota I was in. So far as I could tell, it was shredded chicken with cream of something soup and cheese. It was both tasteless and yet completely, unedibly salty. Basically cafeteria food, but ADULTS PAID FOR IT. And the worst part? At least four people asked me how I liked it, not stopping to hear my answer (thank God) before rushing on to tell me how much they love it and how just everyone eats it and they make it for their kids all the time.

    That’s a form of child abuse, in my opinion.

  41. Shredded turkey, I mean. I still haven’t recovered full use of my brain after that trip. Maybe the Turkey Supreme kills brain cells. It would not surprise me.

  42. Years ago I had the White Trash Cooking cookbook, from which I imagine Paula cribbed this recipe.

    I wonder if this could be made vegetarian? Tofu divan? Seitan divan? Maybe I’ll just take out the chicken and add extra cheese. YUM-O!

  43. There is a PD dessert “recipe” that I like – gingerbread pumpkin trife. And when you replace the Cool Whip with bourbon-laced whipped cream, everyone raves! ;-)

  44. My name is rachel and I’m here for the fiestaware platter tryouts. Ready?

    DAYUMMM!! And I can make words into more syllables than Miz Paula ever dreamt of.

    PS Some bourbon-laced whipped cream could only improve this.

  45. Pingback: Roving Gastronome: The Blog » Blog Archive » Recharging

  46. This post is hysterical, I absolutely love your writing!
    It is of course the most insane version of Chicken Divan I have ever seen. Maybe you should call it “Sicken Divan”. It sure seems like something you might find in a frozen boilin’ bag. The real thing has leeks, chicken stock, sherry, dijon, thyme and parmesan and is really tasty. How did they come up with this?

  47. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » I didn’t have a single drink, ocifer.

  48. One of the first things I did today after work was read this post. It really made a looong day brighter, thank you!! I have one can of cream of chicken soup in my pantry. I have no idea how old it is or where it even came from. I should just throw it out, since I couldn’t even donate it (why make others suffer?)

  49. Who the hell is PD? Does she have ticks or fleas? Does anybody have a recipe for slum gully? I think it contains tomato soup and noodles, maybe some mushroom soup too, but not much else, I think it gets jazzed up a little with an addition of salt and a little pepper, if you have any of that on hand. Any help will be appreciated or ignored, Thanks

  50. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Smackdown: Nuts 4 Nuts

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