My mother grew up with a mother who was a Cordon Bleu chef. Her mom (my Granny) loved elevated casseroles and elegance-infused one-pot meals. My mother took this passion with her into her own military family kitchen. My mom is a natural wizard of good flavor and she made this classic recipe her own. What makes this truly a family tradition is the topping of crushed graham crackers instead of standard crackers. The sweetness with the curry is everything! This is my favorite recipe of hers and it always felt like home when she made it, no matter where we were in the world. She made it famous when my dad was a TAC (Training, Advising, Counseling) officer at West Point military academy. She would make a mountain of her chicken divan and the cadets would come over, eat a wheelbarrow of it and fall asleep on the floor. That’s why this recipe is now known amongst our family and friends as “Cadet Dinner.” Proud to say, our son who is now an active F-16 pilot, calls this one of his favorite dishes, too—so the tradition continues!
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Using a little olive oil or cooking spray, coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish for easy release after baking.
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet (at least 12 inches in diameter, with a lid) over medium-high heat. Season both sides of each breast with salt and pepper. Once the oil shimmers, place the chicken breasts into the hot skillet all tucked in next to each other (like socks in a drawer!). Brown the first side for about 6 minutes. Flip each chicken breast to the other side for additional browning, another 6 minutes. Add the 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet, pop on the lid and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave it alone for 3 minutes. Make sure the internal temperature of each chicken breast is 165 degrees F, then remove to a plate and let them rest for a minimum of 5 minutes. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms, stirring continuously, until they are a light brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and transfer to a large bowl (at least 6 quarts in size). Add the mushrooms, broccoli, both cans of soup, mayonnaise, sherry, lemon juice and curry powder. Mix together thoroughly, then transfer to your prepared baking dish. Evenly sprinkle the cheese on top and set aside.
Combine the graham crackers with the parsley and melted butter in a small bowl. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the cheese.
Place the casserole on a sheet pan and bake in the oven until the top is browned and the casserole is bubbly, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve over your favorite cooked rice.
This recipe is perfect for doubling, tripling or even quadrupling! If you have the space to keep it, make as much as you can, it freezes extremely well.