Thursday, March 16, 2023

Who is the king of Chicken a la King?

Chicken a la king, said the respected New York times columnist Marion Burros in 1989, is an “unspeakable mixture of flour-laden sauce with bits of canned mushrooms, canned pimento and overcooked chicken.” (The Entree that Wouldn’t Die by Marion Burros)

Burros quotes James Beard on the subject:

“Usually prepared in mediocre fashion, it is found in many tearooms and restaurants. Their version has little to do with the original, which is really quite good if done with care and fine ingredients. It should be served at once and not kept hot over water for hours - this can kill even the best food.”

While Burros lists two or three possible origins for the name “a la king,” the current Wikipedia article lists five possible origin stories. Some were named “Keene” and some named “King,” and they were mainly the chefs or patrons at well-known restaurants at the end of the 19th century when the dish first became popular. The 1906 edition of the Fanny Farmer cookbook offered a recipe for it. Its popularity lasted well into the 1960s or so. I think it is one of several dishes that were good and even imaginative in their original form 100 years ago or so, but degenerated into commercial mediocrity or downright ickiness.

For some reason I occasionally make this dish (which I associate with school cafeterias and other institutional food) but I use decent ingredients, and it’s not that bad. Last night I had some very rich chicken stock that I made when roasting a chicken. A really good sauce made from such stock is in my opinion necessary (not the pasty white or yellow glop that was a standard feature of the dish in my past).

Ingredients for decent chicken a la king: home roasted chicken, roasted red peppers,
frozen peas, chopped green onions, and really good fresh mushrooms.

I add the chicken at the last minute because I don’t like it to be overcooked.

Garnished with the green onions, and eaten with home-baked sourdough bread and a fresh salad and cranberry chutney…
Not bad at all!

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander


Jenn Jilks said...

Good for you!

anno said...

Just goes to show: If you start with good honest ingredients, and then treat them respectfully and with affectionate attention, you are bound to end up with something delicious (regardless of their original "inspiration"). Well-done!

DVArtist said...

Your food always looks so good. Your table settings too. Have a nice evening.

Sherry's Pickings said...

yes always important to use good quality ingredients. I've been watching these hilarious videos on Youtube lately where they just open some packets and cans and throw everything into a casserole dish. YUck!!!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Looks different and better than anything I have ever eaten call a la King.

eileeninmd said...

Your recipe sounds delicious, much better than the can version.
Thanks for sharing. Take care, have a happy weekend.