The Best Turkey Divan Recipe: A Classic Made the Way It Should Be

After decades of sliding into disfavor (thanks to the likes of condensed soup and processed cheese), it’s time to give Turkey Divan back its good name! Made with a great cheese and a true Mornay sauce, my Turkey Divan Recipe reclaims the dish’s status as one of the best recipes ever for leftover turkey. 

Authentic and Easy Recipe for Turkey Divan

Authentic and Easy Recipe for Turkey Divan

The Late, Great Younker's Department Store. Click here for my ode to working in the famous tea room.

The Late, Great Younker’s Department Store. Read my ode to working in the famous tea room.

I first came across Turkey Divan when I was working in one of the long-gone restaurants of Younker’s Department Store  in Amerique profonde. Made by layering steamed broccoli with sliced cooked turkey breast, with a rich cheese sauce amidst the layers, it was one of those wonderful American classics that were the mainstays of department store tearooms and old-school hotel dining rooms. 

American, you ask? Divan sounds kind of French.

Indeed, according to what research I could find, the recipe was the specialty of the Divan Parisien, a French restaurant in a New York Hotel (the long-gone Hotel Chatham, near Grand Central Station).

Wait–is it Divine or Divan? Is it turkey or is it chicken?

It’s Divan. And the original recipe was for chicken, but someone along the line discovered that it worked beautifully with turkey, too.

What does Divan mean, anyway?

According to my Oxford French-English Dictionary, divan means divan. Yes, as in a davenport. But it’s a Parisian davenport, mind you. I can only guess that the restaurant’s name, “Divan Parisien,” was supposed to bring to mind an elegant place to sit yourself down. And, looking at a vintage postcard, it looks like the place was all about divan-style seating.

Divan Parisien

And yet, Turkey Divan is not elegant in a complicated, rococo way. In fact, the term “polished simplicity” comes to mind whenever I taste a great version. (I always say no one does polished simplicity quite like the French–and this dish is definitely French-inspired).

Turkey Divan begins with one of the most simple-elegant things in the culinary world: a white sauce (a béchamel). When was the last time you stopped and really tasted a white sauce? I did, the other day when I was testing this recipe, and I was thrilled once again by the magic that happens when a warm paste made of melted butter and flour turns milk something so rich and wonderful.

For this recipe, you add a great cheese (and nearly any great cheese that melts well will do); the white sauce becomes a cheese sauce. Or, in French cooking terms, a béchamel becomes a Mornay.

Seriously? It’s as good as all that? Whenever I’ve tasted Turkey Divan, it’s been kind of…..ordinary.

Well, here’s what happened: Over the years, our mothers and grandmothers started substituting cream of mushroom or chicken soup instead of making a white sauce. Condensed soup is to béchamel what Velveeta is to a Vermont Cheddar.

Process cheese (aka Velveeta)? Condensed soup? Let's not judge....but we can do better!

From my mother’s BH&G Casserole Cookbook. Process cheese (aka Velveeta)? Condensed soup? Let’s not judge….but we can do better! (PS: Let the record show that the book also offered a classic, scratch-made version.)

Still, I’m not judging here: If I’d grown up cutting heads off chickens, sweeping Dust Bowl dirt from my floorboards three times a day, and scratching every bit of food I could from the grit of a substinance farm in the anything-but-Martha-Stewart 30s and 40s, by the 1950s, I would have looked at condensed soup as a beacon of salvation from the drudgery of all that work. I would have been first in line for an electric can opener.

And if buying cheap process cheese meant that you’d be able to save enough money to finally afford that beautiful readymade dress in the Younkers window after years of sewing your own clothes, well, pass me the Velveeta.

But now that we have the time and (if we’re blessed) the resources to get back to scratch cooking, it’s time to get back to making the Mornay sauce. And making Turkey Divan in the legendary way.

Here are some step-by-steps to this great dish; just skip below if you want the recipe.

1. Gather up your ingredients (see recipe listing below). You can use broccoli, which is classic, but I love broccolini (pictured in the center).

Ingredients for Turkey Divan.

Ingredients for Turkey Divan.

2. Make a White Sauce (a Béchamel), and then turn it into a cheese sauce (a Mornay) with your favorite flavorful melting cheese.

What cheese to use in Turkey Divan or Chicken Divan: Both Comté and Cheddar work beautifully here. You can also use Gruyère, Asiago, Fontina, Gouda (though not hard-aged Gouda), Muenster, Havarti, and Monterey Jack. I would not use blue cheese for this. You could use Brie or Camembert if you cut off the rind.

A white sauce becomes a cheese sauce (that is, a Béchamel becomes a Mornay). And it's a wonderful thing. You've simply forgotten.

A white sauce becomes a cheese sauce (that is, a Béchamel becomes a Mornay). And it’s a wonderful thing. You’ve simply forgotten.

3. Layer Your Ingredients: The broccoli or broccolini should be cooked until just tender; the turkey should be warm (heat it gently in the microwave). The sauce should still be warm. This is key, because you only run it under the broiler for just a few minutes. PS: I like using Individual Gratin Dishes for these, but a larger gratin dish will work too. Just be sure whatever dish you use is broiler safe.

1. A layer of broccoli 2. A little white sauce 3. A layer of turkey 4. More white sauce

1. A layer of broccoli
2. A little white sauce
3. A layer of turkey…

 

4. More White Sauce 5. A layer of cheese and a little paprika.

4. More White Sauce
5. A layer of cheese and a little paprika.

 4. Broil until nicely bubbly and a little bit brown.

Voilà.

Voilà.

Here’s the recipe, friends!

5.0 from 8 reviews
The Best Turkey Divan Recipe: A Classic Made the Way It Should Be
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
 
If you don't have individual gratin dishes, you can use an 8x8 or 9x9 casserole, or even a round baking dish. Just make sure it can stand the heat of your broiler. You may need to broil the larger casserole longer, but do watch constantly.
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1½ cups 2% or whole milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup grated Gruyère, Comté, Vermont Cheddar, or another great semi-firm cheese you love that melts well
  • 1 1-pound head broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets, cooked and drained* or 1 8-ounce bunch broccolini, cooked and drained.*
  • ¾ pound sliced leftover sliced turkey
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or other great grating cheese of your choice. Or, you can simply add more of the cheese you used in the sauce.
Instructions
  1. Melt butter. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture bubbles. Remove from heat; gradually blend in milk and cream. Add cayenne and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and begins to boil. Add Gruyère and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted.
  2. Warm the broccoli or broccolini and the turkey in the microwave. Divide broccoli or broccolini amongst 4 individual gratin dishes, spreading out into 1 layer. Pour about ¼ cup sauce over each dish. Layer turkey atop the broccoli; cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  3. Broil about 4 inches from heat for about 5 minutes or until cheese is browned, watching constantly. Serves 4.
  4. • To cook broccoli florets: Cook in about 1 inch of boiling salted water for about 6 to 8 minutes or until just crisp-tender. To cook broccolini: Trim ends. Cook in 1 inch boiling salted water for about 4 minutes or until just crisp-tender.

PS: If you’ve found this post helpful, please consider supporting my work on this site. It’s so easy–and costs you nothing: Next time you want to buy something from Amazon, simply go to Amazon.com through one of my links or ads (such as the ones, below). No matter what you buy, I’ll get a small commission from your purchase–even if it’s not the item I’m advertising. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Links you might enjoy:

• Five French ways with leftover turkey: A great casserole, crêpes, vol-au-vents, and more.
• Five French ways with leftover ham: Croque monsieur, soufflé, French pizza, and other ideas.
• Great Gift Ideas for the Cook: Help support this site by checking out some of these epic gifts.
• Three good, inexpensive sparkling wines: These would be my choice for serving with Turkey Divan.
• Swiss Chard Salad: Looking to go light + healthful with your leftovers? Make this great winter salad, which is great with turkey.

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32 comments to The Best Turkey Divan Recipe: A Classic Made the Way It Should Be

  • I try not to rant about processed food too much on my blog, but it has caused all my health issues. My body just will not tolerate it anymore. Now I am mad for not making homemade from the start. What was I thinking? 🙂

    I am getting ready to post about Mornay sauce next week. You beat me to it. 🙂

    Hope you and your family have a wonder Thanksgiving.

    M.

  • Wini

    There’s plenty more to be said about Mornay sauce! I’ll look forward to your post.

  • This looks just wonderful. Too bad, I’ve used up all my turkey in a sort of version of ‘creamed ‘ turkey. To my basic white sauce (for which I used only heavy cream!) Hey, I had to use it up, right? Then I mixed in the very end of the best gravy I have ever made; it was rich and dark and perfect with our turkey bird, so why not put into the creamed version to make it even richer? Anyway, it was great!
    BTW: I have used your cookbook so many times and always had success with every recipe!!! Many thanks!

    • Wini

      So nice to hear from you, as always, Libby. Your improvised, gravy-enriched creamed turkey sounds amazing. And thanks for your nice comments on my book. I’m glad you continue to enjoy it.

      PS: Chicken Divan is great, too. Just roast some boneless, skinless breasts and slice them as you would the turkey. Good winter dinner!

      Thanks again for writing.

  • Thanks for your recipe. I made it the other night, and even my son liked it; he is picky. I did make a few changes in order to cut back the fat and increase the amount of sauce. So, my proportions were: 1/4 cup Smart Balance margarine, 1/4 cup flour, 1 cup fat-free evaporated milk (shake well before opening can), 1 cup fat-free milk, 1 cup grated cheese. I also used frozen broccoli stalks and probably had a good pound of sliced turkey. All fit wonderfully in a square glass pan. Because the broccoli was frozen, I baked the dish at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until it bubbled. This was very rich tasting with less fat. The Joy of Cooking has this dish as well, but they put buttered toast in the bottom of the pan. Not sure why. Other recipes include dry mustard or sherry instead of cayenne, but I liked your choice of cayenne. Added depth to the sauce. Thank you again for posting.

  • Jennifer

    I’m so glad I found this! I’m just so tired of the canned-soup variety, and this sounds ultra fresh. Love the idea of using Broccolini, too.

  • Maria

    I am so glad I found this too! Just made it and it is a keeper!!!! The best part… didn’t have to wait another 30-40 minutes to bake!!!
    Thank you!

    • Wini

      Great to hear! It was a wildly popular post these last few days after Thanksgiving. It’s so gratifying to know the recipe found some good homes.

  • Patrick

    Thank you for posting this. I have been craving Turkey Divan for a while now but for some reason just haven’t made it. In fact I haven’t had it in over 20 years.

    I was getting really disappointed in all the “condensed soup” recipes I was finding and was quite happy to find a real one! I’m not using leftover Turkey, I’m using thick sliced turkey rolled around broccoli with the sauce over the top.

    How do you think this would hold up as a freezer meal? My mother-in-law works across the state and only comes home on the weekend so I cook a bunch of freezer meals to send with her so she doesn’t have to cook after a long day or spend lots of money on crappy food. Since I’ve been out of work I’m not only the cook I’m also the Butler, laundry boy, housekeeper, maid, pool boy, gardener, and general lackey. Not complaining though, I actually enjoy it.

    • Wini

      I think this would work well as a freezer meal; however, I might make a little extra sauce, as things can dry out a bit in the freezing and reheating!

  • Eve Y.

    Delicious recipe–thank you for sharing!! I just tried this with leftover new year’s turkey, which was smoked/cooked on the grill. For the cheese I used a combo of smoked Gouda and cheddar. I also used smoked paprika and it came out awesome–will definitely save/use this recipe again!

    • Wini

      I love the way you used whatever cheese you have on hand. I think Gouda would be amazing! And smoked paprika–yum!
      Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this.
      Best,
      Wini

  • Daphne

    I have always made this recipe from scratch, but I always made it with a good amount of white wine as that was how I had it as a child. It never occurred to me that wine would not be part of the classic recipe.

    • Wini Moranville

      Good point! I think a few tablespoons of sherry would be good for those who want some wine flavor to the dish. Next time I make it, I’m going to try it that way.

      It’s funny–while I love cooking with wine, a lot of midcentury recipes didn’t include wine–it just wasn’t as common as it is now. But thanks for the reminder!

  • Alexis

    Wondering if I could make this in one large pan, refrigerate overnight and then heat in the oven prior to serving?

    • Wini

      Sorry for the late reply–you’ve probably already made this! Yes! You could definitely do that. Just add a little extra time to the cooking time. In fact, I’ve done it that way myself. It’s a great make-ahead dish.

  • Jodie Hurckes

    Loved this chicken Divan recipe…so very different from the way I have been making for it for years. Mixed up the cheese’s and even added the curry and and a little cayenne. Amazing. Thanks

  • Jodie Hurckes

    simply amazing recipe. We have made this mostly one way for many years. Put cookbooks away for a move and found this on line. Many different cheese’s, curry and cayenne…who would have guessed?
    Love it, I made two smaller 8×8 pans and want to freeze it for later. What do you suggest?

    • Wini

      Glad you liked it! It’s really a great classic recipe. And yes, you can spice it up, and you can use any cheese you like! That’s the beauty of this recipe.

      And indeed, it freezes well. Just cover it with plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze. I’d say up to a month; thaw in the fridge or microwave, then reheat in oven. I do this a lot with individual sizes.

      Thanks for your note!

  • Erika

    Do you have any tips for turning this recipe into the classic casserole dish with rice? I used to love it growing up but I refuse to cook with cream of whatever soup, which is what all the recipes call for. I’d love to try yours as a casserole. Many thanks!

    • Wini

      This would be a really good chicken (or turkey) and rice casserole, wouldn’t it? Here’s my best guess:
      • When making the Mornay, increase the milk to 2 cups (rather than 1 1/2 cups). The rice will absorb the extra liquid.
      • Mix all the ingredients together with about 2 cups of COOKED rice and place in a greased 2-quart casserole. Don’t top with the Parmesan yet
      • Bake at 350°F until it bubbles (25 minutes?); then, add the parmesan on top and return to oven until cheese is melted.

      That’s a guess—but an educated guess based on melding the Turkey Divan recipe with a trusted bhg.com recipe for Chicken-Rice Casserole.

      Good luck!

  • Sarg

    I got such a deal on a turkey! I have a lot of bone broth and all the meat from a 15 pound turkey. So glad to find this recipe. I plan to use asparagus, some broth in the sauce, and perhaps a bit of red bell pepper for color.

  • Carol

    Fabulous! I used to make this many years ago using canned soup and whatever cheese. That’s why I haven’t made it since the kids were small. This is fast, and fantastic. Thank you for the recipe.

  • Looks great Wini! I am not a broccoli fan so I think maybe some fresh cooked green beans would be a nice substitute! No cream of crap soup on this house so the recipe is perfect!

  • Just printed this out: perfect oh so perfect!

  • Cathy Shearer

    I’m glad I found your recipe. Mine is in a box somewhere. I make this every year but put is over noodles. Thank You.

  • stuart itter

    NIcely done really. I had eaten at Divan in the late 1960s. It was a favorite place of a colorful food photographer who raved about the Divan regularly. Have been looking at this and that recipe for days. Yours seems fine. Craig Claiborne and Franey have a version in the final NYT Cookbook that gets complicated with added hollandaise. Martha Stewart adds mushrooms. Strikes me that takes away from the concept and moves closer to chicken pot pie. Wonder if the actual restaurant version went this far. Anyway, having your version tonight.

  • Wini

    Really!! You ate at the Divan? That’s amazing. Did it look like the photo? Was it it still a fine restaurant at the time, or was it on its “last legs.”

    I’m fascinated by old hotels, and old hotel dining rooms….

    Thanks for sharing this. I hope you enjoyed your Divan!

  • Heather

    Thank you for this! I will not cook with condensed soups and was looking for a “from scratch” version of a dish my mother made often (using Campbell’s of course) when we were growing up. I always loved Turkey Divan night and the flavors that my mind conjures when I think of it is a little bit lemony and that special something you can’t quite put your finger on, but which turns out to be curry. Just a touch. So tonight when I make this, I’ll be adding lemon juice and pinch of curry. I can’t wait!!

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