Classic casserole material is coming your way. Ever heard of Chicken Divan? It’s a pretty straight forward casserole of chicken and broccoli that has made its fair share of appearances at potlucks everywhere. In addition to being a creamy, cheesy concoction, it is uniquely seasoned with curry powder (and sometimes sherry vinegar). Sounds kinda strange to add curry to this, but when it comes together in one creamy bite, you’ll understand why this casserole has been around so long. It was one of my pre-Paleo favorites.
We’re gonna mimic the cream-of-something-rather soup and cheddar cheese by soaking and pureeing cashews. Vegans do this all the time, since they too avoid dairy. And instead of topping our casserole with buttered breadcrumbs, I’m using flaxseed meal. Who doesn’t love a little Omega-3’s slipped into their dinner? Well, I mean, unless you’re talking about a squeeze of fish oil… Let’s stick to flax!
2 cups diced chicken breasts or thighs, raw (skinless/boneless is best for this recipe)
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup raw cashews (not the roasted kind!)
2 cloves garlic
1 cup white or yellow onion, large dice
1 cup organic chicken stock
1 tsp kosher salt
1.5 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
10 grinds fresh black pepper
Lard or your preferred Paleo-approved fat
Optional: 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
There are two options for soaking the cashews. The quick way is to boil the cup of cashews in two cups of water, then as soon as the water reaches a rolling boil, turn off the heat, cover and let rest for a good hour. Drain the water and use the cashews. The slower, simpler way is to soak the cashews in a cup and half of room temperature water overnight. In the morning (or when you’re ready to cook) just drain the water off and you’re ready to go. Choose your method, then when it’s time to cook do the following:
Select your chicken (and yes, boneless/skinless does work better for this recipe) and chop it into large, bite-sized pieces. If using thighs, you can just leave them whole. I made this with both thighs and breasts and definitely preferred the whole pieces of thigh meat. In any event, you’ll need a good two cups worth of meat for the amount of sauce we’ll make.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan to medium high and add your fat of choice. These days I cannot get enough of the fresh lard I’ve been making thanks to the incredible Beyond Bacon. However, most any Paleo-approved fat will do: ghee, grass-fed butter, olive oil, tallow, schmaltz.
Get your fat to temp and add the raw chicken to the pan. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and a couple grinds over the chicken and cook until the meat takes on a little golden color, then dump the fresh broccoli florets onto the chicken—don’t mix. Cover the pan and reduce the temperature to medium low. The broccoli should steam like this for 3-4 minutes.
While the chicken browns in the step above, make the curry cashew sauce. You’ll need your food processor for this. Add the soaked cashews, chopped onion, garlic cloves, coriander, curry, salt and black pepper to the food processor. Pulse several times to break down the cashews. Then flip the switch to “on” and stream in the cup of organic chicken stock. Let it run until the sauce is as creamy as you can get it… this may take a few minutes. Heads up – I noticed that the smell of raw garlic was very strong at this stage. It does “mellow” after the sauce had a chance to cook down, just so you know. Set the sauce aside until the broccoli from the previous step has steamed.
Back to the broccoli. It should not be fully cooked at this point, just steamed enough to soften slightly. Carefully pour all of the curry cashew sauce over the broccoli and chicken and toss gently to combine. Continue simmering at medium heat for at least five minutes (until the sauce has thickened slightly).
Just prior to serving, top everything with a sprinkle of flaxseed meal to get that toasted breadcrumb topping appearance. I used about a quarter cup.
The finished product looks so good!
I also made this with chicken breasts and baked it for a traditional casserole appearance. Rather than simmering on the stovetop for a few minutes after adding the curry cashew sauce, I transfer everything to a baking dish and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Top with flaxseed meal after it’s done baking and let cool slightly before serving. The sauce will set up more and you won’t burn your tongue. I hate that…
* * * * *
There are some kitchen tools that definitely make preparing this dish easier. I recommend getting a food processor and an oven safe skillet, if you do not already have them.