OH DEAR GOD IT BURNS.
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.
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.
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?