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Chicken a la King

Chicken a la King
Chicken a la King is one of those dishes whose origins are debated.  Some say it was created in the 1880's by chef Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico's and originally called Chicken a la Keene (after Foxhall Parker Keene).  The Claridge Hotel in London also lays claim to its creation in 1881 (named for James R. Keen, Foxhall's father).  Yet another hotel in Brighton Beach, the Brighton Beach Hotel claims its creation in the 1890's (named after a patron and his wife, E. Clarke King).  Or perhaps it was the creation of cook William "Bill" King of the Bellevue Hotel in Pennsylvania.  After all, that is what his obituary in the New York Tribune said. (*source)

But all that aside, what I love about Chicken a la King is that it reminds me of being a kid.  I can say with confidence that it was one of my absolute favorite dishes growing up, if not the favorite.   I don't necessarily remember sitting down to the table to eat it.  I can find no clarity on specific instances.  But when I think of it, it makes me happy.  That warm, creamy gravy studded with chunks of white meat chicken.  Thin slices of mushroom and bits of color from bell peppers and herbs.  And we always, I repeat ALWAYS served our Chicken a la King over biscuits.  Smothered.

Funny thing is, my parents didn't make it from scratch.  It came from a can.  But man, oh man, did I love it.  I didn't pay that can any mind.  I mean, our biscuits came from a popable tube, so why would I question the can?
Chicken a la King
As a young mother, I would "make" Chicken a la King every once in a while.  From the can.  However, it was about that time in my life when I really started cooking.  For real.  So the can didn't make many appearances.  But every once in a while, I'd throw caution to the wind and plunk one (okay, more than likely it was two) cans in my cart.  But I didn't do it very often.   I mean, aside from not wanting to eat whole meals from a can, that shtuff is pricey!

Naturally, I started experimenting.  Searching out different recipes for it.  Everybody has their own little variations.  Some people use red and green bell peppers.  I like to use pimientos or roasted red peppers.  I like the way they sort of dissolve into the sauce/gravy and give it little red flecks.  It reminds me of the one I grew up with.  You can very easily use sherry or Madeira or even Marsala, but I usually use brandy.  Some people cut their white button mushrooms into thick slices, I like to use a mix of white and crimini and slice them very thinly.  And some people serve the whole shebang over noodles or rice.  But 90% of the time, I choose biscuits.  The other 10, I'll go with toast points.

But no matter what, this is a dish I make when the weather starts to turn chilly (and a couple more times throughout the cold months).  And no matter what the day or time, when I smell it cooking and then sit down to eat, though I am grown and have kids of my own, I am instantly transported back to childhood.  Pure comfort food.  Warm and fuzzy.  Uuuuhhhh...Fuzzy feelings, not fuzzy food.    

Chicken a la King
Chicken a la King
by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: ~1 hour (unattended)
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Keywords: simmer entree chicken mushrooms American fall winter

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
  • 1½ c. cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • salt
  • ~2½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½"-1" chunks
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 small onions, cut into small dice
  • ~8 oz. white &/or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 (4 oz.) jar pimientos, drained
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ c. brandy
  • 3 c. chicken stock or broth
  • ¼ c. finely chopped fresh parsley
Place 1 cup of the cream, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons salt into a gallon-sized zippered baggie and squish around to mix. Add chicken and seal. Massage to coat and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

Heat butter or oil in large pan over medium-high heat until melted and starting to bubble. Add onion and cook until translucent, ~3 minutes. Add mushrooms and pimientos, ~½ teaspoon salt, and the pepper and cook for another 4 - 5 minutes. Sprinkle in flour and cook for another minute. Add brandy, scraping up any browned bits with wooden spoon, and cook until brandy has basically evaporated and you have a thick, glumpy mass, ~1 minute. Add broth and remaining cream and cook until sauce is thick enough to leave a glimpse of a trail in the bottom of the pan when you run your wooden spoon through it, ~10-12 minutes.

Open the baggie and dump in the chicken mixture; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through, 10 minutes or so. Remove from heat and stir in remaining teaspoon of lemon juice and the chopped parsley. Serve over biscuits or toasted bread.
Chicken a la King