What Is Chicken a la King?

Chicken a la king reinvented - Top Chef

In this week’s episode of Top Chef covering recreations of classic family dishes, one of the most confusing dishes presented to the judges was Sara M.’s version of Chicken a la King (seen at right). The judges agreed that they were confused about how this dish related to real Chicken a la King. That raised my curiosity about just what Chicken a la King is anyway.

According to Food Reference, Chicken a la King is a dish of diced chicken, mushrooms, green peppers, and pimientos in a cream sherry sauce served over toast. Checking over a number of other recipes it seems that chicken, mushrooms, and peppers (of some form), and a cream sauce are ubiquitous. The sherry is less of a requirement, and Chicken a la King is usually served over some form of starchy base. However, it is not neccesarily toast. It could be pasta, rice, or even puff pastry.

With the components of Chicken a la King cleared up, I was still curious about its origins. According to What’s Cooking America, there are multiple possibilities including arising out of New York’s famed Delmonico restaurant in the 1880’s, from London’s Claridge Hotel in 1881, or New York’s Brighton Beach Hotel in the 1890’s. Regardless of the specific origin, Fannie Farmer’s 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book featured 2 recipes for Chicken a la King.

So…just what is wrong with Sara M.’s attempt at recreation? It seems that everything has been deconstructed, and in the published recipe the peppers are entirely missing. Tomatoes have been added on the skewers of chicken. The sauce smeared across the plate separate from the chicken seems to miss some of the point of the original dish.

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