Friday, April 6, 2012

Chicken a la King, Ladies Who Lunch, Circa 1913

I’ve been working like a dog recently on a wonderful movie.  For all of you who lead hectic lives… you must, like me, long for a simpler time when there were “ladies who lunch” after a particularly grueling day. 

I daydream about lounging like the lovely lady above, elegantly attired and insouciant… waiting for course after course of small plates to tease my taste buds and fuel girly chatter.  As it is, my reality is a grabbed nibble of chips, an apple on the fly or stainless steel trays of goop over burners –– not inspiring at all.  No wonder this lifestyle seems like a dream (especially since I look more like a bag lady on the job than a perfectly coiffed, fur-muff-wielding damsel).

I found this recipe whilst looking for something else in the NYT archives.  It is treasure of Edwardian delights suggested by the Maitre d’Hotel of the Plaza Hotel in NY, a M. Lattard in January of 1913. One could pass the article’s dining suggestions along to ones cook for ones enjoyment.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?


As you can see, the recipe is quite simple.  The unusual part came from the rice cakes that were served with it.  I had always had chicken a la king on toast or biscuits so this was an unusual presentation that took a little detective work to find recipes for but then Chicken a la King takes a little detective work in itself –– its history is very unclear with multiple stories.

Wikipedia said  that Delmonico's chef Charles Ranhofer served “Chicken à la Keene in the 1880s, named after Foxhall Parker Keene. Another version claims it was created in 1881 at Claridge's Hotel in London and named for James R. Keene, father of Foxhall”.

“Another account claims chef George Greenwald of the Brighton Beach Hotel in Brighton Beach created it in 1890s, naming it after patron E. Clarke King and his wife.”

“The most likely account is that Chicken à la King was created in the 1890s by hotel cook William "Bill" King of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. Several obituaries in early March 1915 credited King after he died on March 4, 1915. A New York Tribune editorial at the time of King's death stated: “The name of William King is not listed among the great ones of the earth. No monuments will ever be erected to his memory, for he was only a cook. Yet what a cook! In him blazed the fire of genius which, at the white heat of inspiration, drove him one day, in the old Bellevue, in Philadelphia, to combine bits of chicken, mushrooms, truffles, red and green peppers and cream in that delight-some mixture which ever after has been known as "Chicken a la King.””


My recipe for Chicken a la King is based on the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book recipe that I found in the book I inherited from my grandmother… simple and classic.

1850 edition

The 1846 recipe for these little rice cakes from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt-Book by Catharine Beecher is pretty simple too.  I used brown rice for fun and a pinch of sugar as many of the recipes had a good deal of sugar in them.  These little pancakes were very popular in the 19th century. Saleratus, if you don’t know (I didn’t) is baking soda! I also looked at a recipe on Vintage Recipes   for some assistance with the griddle cakes


Chicken a la King inspired by the Boston Cooking School for 2

4 T melted butter
½ to ¾ cup sliced mushrooms
2 T flour
½ c hot chicken broth
½ cup hot milk
½ c hot cream  (** if you want to lower the calories use only milk)
1 cup cooked white meat chicken, cubed
1 t fresh marjoram
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of mace
1 -2 T sherry or madeira to taste
1 egg yolk
2 T pimento
1 T parsley

Sauté the mushrooms in 1 T butter over a m/low heat till cooked through.
Remove the mushrooms and add the rest of the butter and the flour and cook for a few moments to remove the raw taste of the flour.

Slowly add the stock, milk and cream and add the salt and pepper and mace to taste and stir until thickened. Add the mushrooms to warm and the sherry or madeira.  Gently add the egg yolk over very low heat.

Sprinkle with parsley and pimento. Serve with the rice griddle cakes.

Rice Griddle Cakes

1 ½ c salted boiled rice (brown or white)
1 c milk

2 c milk
2 c flour
1 egg
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 t baking soda dissolved in 1 t. hot water
1 T breadcrumbs

Soak the cooked rice overnight in 1 c milk.

Combine the rice with the rest of the ingredients and cook on a buttered skillet or griddle until done.  Keep warm and covered in a low oven. This makes more than you need.  You can freeze they or use them for canapes later!


From the Kitchen said...

This was a staple at my mother's Mahjong gatherings. She served her's in potato baskets. Mother had a metal "contraption" that captured grated potatoes and allowed them to be deep friend. When unmolded, they formed little baskets. A few years ago, a friend who shares a birthday with me and two others served them at our birthday luncheon. She had the potato baskets made by a local restaurant. Lovely memories!

I hope you'll share what movie you are working on when it comes out.


Diane said...

Interesting post, I have always had onions, mushrooms and peppers in my chicken a la king. Generally it is served on rice as a main course with vegetables. Happy Easter. Diane

Marjie said...

I'm sure you don't look like a bag lady at work, just a busy lady!

Your rice cakes sound great, a perfect side dish for so many recipes, including your Chicken a la King!

Happy Easter, Deanna; give Petunia a big Easter hug for me (but keep her from the colored eggs, which Thor would gobble, with disastrous odors to follow).

Claudia said...

I feel so uncivilized - I have never had chicken a la king and I always wondered what it was! I knew it to be chicken and creamy and that's about it. Love the pairing with those rice cakes - dresses it up and catches the lovely-spiced sauce. Hope you have a beautiful (and restful) holiday weekend. Just returned from NYC where I actually did "lunch." A lot! It wasn't real life but it was fun.

Barbara said...

(Wonder if this is where risotto cakes got their start?)
I like the rice cake idea, thinner than risotto cakes, but thicker than pancakes. Nice. We (speaking for the ladies who USED to lunch) always had our chicken a la king served in puff pastry. So common that Pepperidge Farm started making those little puffs in the freezer ready to go. :)
Great post, nice recipe....and not very often is it on a menu anymore when I lunch with the ladies. Now it's salad. But I remember it well.
BTW: That's always been one of my favorite Barbra Striesand songs.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, you've certainly been hard at work indeed! I'm so going to try the rice cakes too, I think they sound wonderful! :D

Sarah said...

I find these rice cakes intriguing. I know, I have always envied 'ladies who lunch'. Hope work is going well for you.

Frank said...

I love the idea of pancakes. In my youth I remember having Chicken a la King as a kind of savory pie and loved it. (But haven't had it for years now.)

Funny, I had heard or read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson had invented Chicken a la King. Must have been apocryphal.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I'd love to be one of those ladies too :) I haven't seen Chicken a la King on a menu for ages, probably due to the fact that most restaurants are trying to serve lighter, less 'creamy' alternatives at lunch. Of course, then there's the Big Mac :)

I love that you used your grandmother's cookbook and also how you served it with the rice cakes. Very elegant looking! Now go wrap yourself in fur.

Dino said...

Chicken a la King is a wonderful retro recipe, a dish that was one of my favorites in the early 1960's (when prepared by my grandmother - my MOTHER couldn't boil water).

Indeed, my wife, who is 15 years younger than I, stated that she had never had it, when I mentioned that I was going to prepare it early next week.

Isn't history, especially culinary history, fun?

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Darling Cuisinière,

Oh how I remember this dish when I was a child. My mother's Betty Crocker recipes with the red checkered border on the cards BRINGS BACK THESE SAVORY MEMORIES....and do tell, what movie are you working on??? Oh what a lovely thought as you described your friend's lawn as being pink! We are always a bit behind the East coast, but we are seven weeks early in spring. Our magnolias as pink, crabapples white, and neon green boxwood hedges in my garden.

Though you have to work tomorrow, think of the beauty of the GRACE surrounding you and your loved ones! Thank you for coming to visit me. You are just the most creative cook I have ever seen on the internet!


Fresh Local and Best said...

I thought I wanted to be one of those ladies that lunch and then I hung out with them and realized what boring miserable lives they lived. The prospects of never building something great in my life really depressed me, so be grateful that you have a job that allows you to pursue your passions.

This is the first time I am seeing chicken a la king. It looks delicious.

Anonymous said...

I too would love to be a lady who lunches and on a weekday off I usually try to become just that. I had no idea that bicab used to be called saleratus either! Great read! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I too would love to be a lady who lunches and on a weekday off I usually try to become just that. I had no idea that bicab used to be called saleratus either! Great read! Thanks.

Unknown said...

Your blog is a goldmine of knowledge! Love the vintage recipes and thank you for sharing with us.

Faith said...

I really enjoyed this post...wouldn't it be so much fun to be a lady of leisure? :) I could pore over vintage recipes all day, so thanks for sharing with us. Your Chicken a la King looks very tasty and I love how it's served with Rice Griddle Cakes...they are new to me!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Every Easter Saturday, a friend and I go out for a leisurely tea. It's not quite "ladies who lunch" but we like evoking the more relaxed, elegant era. I think your Chicken a la King looks fantastic. Amazing to think that some recipes we might consider standard and even mundane today were once quite elegant fare. You've returned it to its former glory!

Lacy @ NYCityEats said...

Ya know I've never had chicken a la king and I really didn't know much about it before reading your post. What I do know now is that it sounds absolutely amazing and I wouldn't mind being known as the cook who created it. :) Your pancakes look incredible as well, a perfect combination!

Anonymous said...

The chicken a la king looks delish! Thanks for sharing this vintage recipe. Great read. Have a lovely weekend. =]

tasteofbeirut said...

I remember this chicken a la King from my early years in the US and all the social clubs of each city had this recipe listed on their ring-binded cookbook. Did not know it could be that elegant! Now I want to make it with these delightful rice cakes! You are a blessing on the internet, for knowledge and style; you should have your own show Deana, either on TV or on Cable; I am sure you'll get quite a following!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

I love chicken a la king! And I love ladies who lunch (the song at least...I mean, does any one still wear a hat?) Hope your work on the movie is going well!

andrew1860 said...

Hi lostpastremembered great post. I love the shell shaped dish the food is displayed in it. It looks like 18th century Paris porcelain. Is is singed?