I know what you might be thinking. For many, the thought of Chicken A La King conjures up the worst of that era of the 50s and 60s when everything came from a can. When people couldn’t figure out what to do with leftover chicken, they smothered it in cream with canned mushrooms – or worse, just doused it in cream of mushroom soup (shudder). But Chicken A La King is a misunderstood dish. Before it was hijacked by the 50s canned-everything era, it enjoyed a place on the menus of some of the finest restaurants in the world – including the Delmonico Steak House in New York City and the Claridge Hotel in London – as far back as the late 19th century. This version is devoid of canned mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup, jarred pimentos, patty shells and leftovers; rather, it is a bright and fresh version closer to the originals from over a century ago that more closely resembles an elegant version of gravy on toast.
Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Cost: About $3 per plate
Serves: 4- 6
- 1.5 – 2lbs chicken breast, cubed
- 8oz Crimini or Baby-Bella mushrooms, quartered
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 TSP fresh thyme (or 1 TSP dried)
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1/4 TSP cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 2 TBSP butter, diced
- 3 TBSP all purpose flour
- 1 cup Sherry wine
- 1/4 cup Brandy (for flambé, optional)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream, or half-and-half
- 3 TBSP fresh parsley, minced
- Dash of Paprika, garnish
- Rustic loaf of bread
Prep all your ingredients and get ready to cook – this dish moves pretty fast.
After you’re finished prepping, preheat oven to 500°F for toast (this will take about the same amount of time as it will to cook the rest of the dish).
Heat olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add mushrooms and sauté until they begin to caramelize just a bit, 2-3 minutes. Add diced butter and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the butter is mostly melted. Add bell pepper and continue to cook until soft, 2-3 minutes more. Add garlic, thyme and cayenne pepper and sauté until very fragrant, about 2 more minutes.
Optional: Add 1/4 cup Brandy and flambé
Add cubed chicken and stir to incorporate. Stir in flour and continue to cook chicken until it is white all around and no pink is visible (it doesn’t need to brown, and it doesn’t need to be cooked through – it will finish cooking in the sauce).
Add sherry wine, bring to a boil, and reduce until the raw alcohol is cooked off, 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, stir in cream and reduce until sauce is thickened to a gravy-like consistency, 5-7 minutes over medium heat.
Meanwhile, while the sauce is reducing, thickly slice several pieces of rustic bread – about 1 or 1.5 inches thick – figure on two pieces per person. Drizzle both sides with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Place them in the 500° oven for about 5-6 minutes or until beautifully golden brown.
Remove toast from oven and plate. Ladle chicken and sauce generously over the toast. Garnish with fresh parsley and a dusting of paprika. Serve with steamed broccoli or asparagus.
Cook’s Note: Due to the richness of this dish, it can come across as a bit overly decadent (even though this version isn’t too bad for you). But the garnish here isn’t really optional – the parsley and paprika will brighten it up significantly.