Recipe 5: Culinary Arts Institute’s Chicken a la King (1939)

It is the holidays and I grew up watching “A Christmas Story” (1983) like most people my age. My favorite part is when the Bumpus hounds run into the house and eat all of the turkey meant for Christmas dinner. The narrator exclaims:

“The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!”

A Christmas Story 1983

The family ends up eating duck at a Chinese restaurant instead.

I wanted to make something that related to the holidays but was not too Christmasy (I’m still recovering from the Broken Window Glass Cake). I wanted to make something from “A Christmas Story” and thought of this part of the movie. I was not making duck (sorry, I just can’t). I thought of the “turkey a la King” in the exclamation above and realized that even though I have seen this movie every year since it was released, I have never had turkey a la King (or anything a la King for that matter). I decided this would be my next project.

I knew nothing about the meaning of “a la King” and assumed it had something to do with royalty. It definitely sounded majestic and fancy! I was wrong. There are varying origin stories but they all have several things in common:

  • The dishes were created for someone with the last name of “Keene”, “King”, pr a variation of those names
  • The dishes were all created in the late 1800s to early 1900s
  • The dishes were diced meat in a cream sauce with mushrooms, peppers, and sherry

I searched in vain for an authentic turkey a la king recipe from the late 1930s to early 1940s, the time in which “A Christmas Story” was set. This was much more difficult than I anticipated. I could find lots of a la king recipes but NONE of them were for turkey a la king. Disappointed, I decided to just go ahead and make chicken a la king.

I found a recipe in The American Woman’s Cook Book published in 1939 for the Culinary Arts Institute (which I love…they published a number of interesting books and pamphlets).

The recipe is as follows:

American Woman’s Cook Book 1939 page 333

First, we cooked the chicken by boiling it and chopped it into smaller chuncks:

Next, we got a pan and melted the butter (there was a lot of it) and sauteed the mushrooms and pimento peppers. We omitted the green pepper because it makes my husband sick. We were unsure if we should use fresh mushrooms and pimento peppers or the prepared kinds. Because we did not think we could find a fresh pimento pepper in rural Georgia in December we decided to just go ahead and used the prepared mushrooms and pimento peppers. This meant that they did not require as much cooking time as the fresh ones would have.

Look at all of that butter! I like the bright red color of the peppers.

Next, we removed the peppers and mushrooms and added the flour to make a roux (thank you Mom for teaching me this me this cooking term). After approximately 5 minutes we added the chicken stock. We made the stock using my personal favorite, Better Than Bullion, which makes most of my recipes edible.

We cooked the stock/roux mixture for another 5 minutes then added the chicken. Finally, we mixed the evaporated milk with the beaten egg yolks, mushrooms, and pimento and added it to the chicken in the pan.

The directions say not to cook after adding the mixture or the egg may curdle but the raw egg yolks made us feel a little iffy about eating them undercooked. We felt as if we needed to at least simmer the chicken for a few minutes but not much longer than that.

Meanwhile, we cooked some Pillsbury Grands Butter Tastin’ Biscuits to use as our base (you can use noodles, rice, potatoes, or anything starchy but we are in the South and lean more towards biscuits).

The recipe says to not add the sherry until it is serving time, so we waited until it was time to plate the food to add the sherry.

“It tastes like wet socks”-My husband
The finished product!

This was delicious and we loved it! It was VERY decadent and creamy, and I don’t think we could eat this for every meal, but for a special treat on a Saturday night this was perfect!

Time Travel Experience: Preparing the recipe felt like a trip to 1939. I also did some pretty extensive research on the history of “a la King” and found old pictures of New York restaurants, Philadelphia hotels, and Coney Island shorelines from the turn of the century. I did some internet stalking on some of the supposed creators of chicken a la King (which I omitted in the interest of time here, I may write it up later) which led me to an family tree, the New York Times archives, Albany, New York cemetery records, and census reports from the early part of the 1900s. I spent a greater part of Saturday doing research and thoroughly enjoyed myself. This was a 2 for 1 time travel experience (turn of the century and 1930s).

Overall Verdict: Me 10/10-I wouldn’t eat this every day because it was very rich but I enjoyed it very much. Husband 10/10-He would eat this every day because it was very rich and he enjoyed it very much.


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