It is Fancy Tuesday.
To my mind, it would be inconceivable to print a Southern cookbook without a recipe for chicken à la king. When I was a child, it was standard party fare, and in my earliest youth, conceivably the most delectable of all main courses. It was served in my home for special occasions, when my mother entertained, for Sunday dinners, for birthday parties, and so on. The French version of this dish is called poulet à la reine, and it underwent a sort of sea change between here and France. I do not know why it seems so typically Southern—Craig Claiborne, Southern Cooking (1987)
Craig Claiborne, as y’all know, was a Mississippian. Born and raised in Sunflower, Mississippi; lived and died in New York City, New York.
Mr. Big Food has two of Claiborne’s cookbooks: The New York Times Cook Book (1961 )and Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking (1987). Mr. Big Food commented, as we were picking chicken off the bone, that nothing he had cooked from either of Claiborne’s books had disappointed thus far. But chicken a la king IV was new to us. I am here to report that Claiborne’s chicken a la king is danged good! I think it’s the seasonings that go into boiling the chicken.
I also note with great pleasure that the Piglet in town sells pastry shells. Maybe it’s ’cause us Southern folks are still makin’ Claiborne’s chicken a la king all Fancy Like.
CHICKEN À LA KING VI
1 chicken, about 3 lb
5 C water or chicken stock (the latter preferably homemade—see recipes in Basics section)
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, peeled, stuck with 2 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
1 carrot, trimmed, scraped, cut into large cubes
3 ribs celery, cut into large cubes
Salt “to taste, if desired”
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 C heavy cream
Ground black pepper to taste, preferably freshly ground
1 tsp lemon juice, preferably freshly squeezed
2 egg yolks, beaten
¾ C mushrooms, sliced thin
½ C canned pimentos, drained, sliced thin
1/8 tsp Tabasco
1 Tbsp dry sherry, optional
6 toast triangles
Cook chicken in a kettle with water or stock, bay leaf, onion, allspice, carrot, celery, salt (if using), and peppercorns, first bringing to a boil, covering partially, reducing heat, and simmering about 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Let chicken cool in stock. Remove chicken, strain and reserve stock, and discard solids from stock. Remove meat from chicken, discarding skin and bones, and cut meat into ½-inch cubes. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a saucepan, add flour, blend with a wire whisk, then add 1 C of reserved stock. “The remaining broth may be put to other uses such as for soups and sauces.” Stir rapidly with whisk until sauce is smooth and blended, then cook about 5 minutes longer, stirring. Add cream and simmer about 10 minutes. Add salt (if using) and pepper, then add lemon juice. Spoon ½ C hot sauce over egg yolks, stirring rapidly, then spoon mixture back into sauce and bring barely to a simmer, stirring, Remove from heat. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp butter in a skillet, add mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until slices are wilted and have given up their liquid, then cook until liquid has evaporated. Add pimentos and Tabasco, and stir, and cook just until heated through. Add cubed chicken meat and mushroom-pimento mixture to sauce, and stir in sherry (if using). Serve piping hot over toast triangles.