When Jerri first made this casserole I thought that it was called Seafood Divine because it tasted heavenly. However, it is actually a takeoff of Chicken Divan, a casserole made with poached chicken, broccoli and Mornay Sauce–a classic French cheese sauce made with white sauce, Parmesan and Gruyère cheese. Chicken Divan was invented and named by an anonymous chef at the Divan Parisien Restaurant in New York City sometime early in the twentieth century.
The meaning of divan is unclear. One explanation is that “divan” is a French word for a meeting place. Another is that the word actually refers to the privy council of the Ottoman Empire and by association with the council chamber itself. My guess is that the Divan Parisien Restaurant and its signature dish were given the name because it sounded elegant.
The strategy worked and the restaurant flourished for many years just a short distance north of Grand Central Terminal. The recipe spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of variations and takeoffs, many of which seem to use “Divan” in the name just because it sounds good.
Thus, there are leftover turkey divans, ham divans, pork divans, fish divans, lobster and shrimp divans, hamburger divans, vegetarian divans and even spam divans. I kid you not. The one thing these recipes have in common besides the name is some kind of cheese.
Here is our recipe for “a really elegant dish” (a divan!) made with canned and frozen ingredients that you can keep on hand to use when you don’t know what to make for dinner and don’t feel like going to the store to get inspired. This recipe probably originated somewhere in the midwest fifty or sixty years ago. Neither of us really knows where we got it. Jerri even accuses me of first making it, but she is wrong.
For the casserole:
1/2 pound fresh or frozen codfish fillets
1 six ounce can of crabmeat
1 can of condensed Cream of Celery Soup
1 fourteen ounce can of cut asparagus
1 four ounce can of sliced mushrooms
1 two ounce jar diced pimientos
4 tsp. all purpose flour
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
White or brown rice
For poaching the fish:
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
1 small onion
4 whole cloves
2 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
If the fillets are frozen, thaw them before poaching and and grate the cheese.
Put the poaching ingredients into a three or four quart saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then remove the pan from the heat for a few minutes to allow the liquid to cool slightly.
Drop the fillets into the hot liquid and return the pan to low heat for five minutes or until the fish flakes but is not soft. Do not boil or overcook the fish. With a slotted spoon remove the fish from the poaching liquid to a mixing bowl. Discard the liquid. Add the crabmeat to the fish and mix them together, breaking the fillets into large flakes.
Preheat the oven to 325º. Drain the asparagus and put it into a baking dish. Drain the mushrooms and layer them on top. Layer the pimientos on the mushrooms. Sprinkle the vegetables with four teaspoons of all purpose flour. Layer the fish and crab mixture on the vegetables.
Warm the soup with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan and mix until smooth. Pour the soup over the fish and vegetables. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Cook the rice according to your favorite method and make a salad while the casserole is baking.
Serve over rice accompanied by a garden salad and French bread.
NOTES: You can substitute haddock, pollock or other firm-fleshed fish for the codfish fillets. A glass of chilled white wine goes well with this dish.