Chicken a la King is a rich chicken dish that uses lots of cream with pimentos and sherry.
It is served either on hot buttered toast, pastry shells, or in a nest of noodles. You can serve this creamy chicken sauce over your favorite starch such as noodles, rice, biscuits, or buttered toast to soak up the good sauce. This recipe is a great way to use leftover cooked chicken or turkey.
Recently, I had a reader looking for a good Chicken a la King recipe. I decided to do some research and found that classic Chicken a la King is a creamy sauce using cream, pimentos, sherry, and mushrooms. I played around with the ingredients to come up with this recipe that my family enjoyed and gave a thumbs up.
Chicken A’ La King History:
There are several stories/legends as to who created this dish. A few are as follows:
1880s – It is said to be created by the chef at the Delmonico restaurant in the 1880s after Foxhall P. Keene, horse breeder and well-heeled son of Wall Street broker and horse breeder, James R. Keene (1838-1913), known as “Silver Fox of Wall Street.” Supposedly Foxhall dreamed aloud to him about a pimento-studded cream sauce. The chef made the dish and called it Chicken a’ la Keene. This later evolved into the more regal-sounding Chicken a’ la King. Charles Ranhofer, a French chef, was the chef at Delmonico’s from 1862 to 1896.
1881 – It is also said that a chef at the famous Claridge Hotel in London, England created created this dish in 1881 for sportsman J. R. Keene (Foxhall’s father from the story above). His horse, named Foxhall, had just won the 1881 Grand Prix de Paris (3,000 meter race for 3-year old fillies and colts at Longchamp, Paris, France). This was the first American horse to win this race.
1890s – Chef George Greenwald of the Brighton Beach Hotel, Brighton Beach, New York, created it in 1890s. He was an excellent cook and liked to prepare new dishes for his favorite customers. One summer afternoon, he prepared a special chicken dish for Mr. and Mrs. E. Clarke King and served it for supper. Mr. King thought it was wonderful and told Greenwald to put it on the menu. Chef Greenwald added to the menu and called it Chicken a la King after Mr. King.
Brighton Beach is a neighborhood in southwestern Brooklyn lying between Manhattan Beach and Coney Island. William Engeman, an early real estate developer bought land in 1868 and named it Brighton Beach, after a famous British resort. Engerman built the elegant Hotel Brighton went up in 1878. In 1888, the hotel was moved inland in a spectacular feat of engineering with more than 120 railroad cars and six locomotives to save it from destruction from the eroding beaches.
1896 – In Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 updated version of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book, she has two recipes for Chicken a la King.
1901 – The 1901 Settlement Cook Book: Containing Many Recipes Used In Settlement Cooking Classes, The Milwaukee Public School Cooking Centers And Gathered From Various Other Reliable Sources, Compiled By Mrs. Simon Kander, Lizzie Black Kander (1858-1940) has a recipe for Chicken a la King. This fund-raising cookbook traces immigrant history through ethnic food, especially Jewish.
Chicken al a King Recipe:
Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, Herter’s Inc., Waseca, Minnesota. 1963 Edition
Chicken A La King, Feeding America, The American Cookbook Project.
Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, by Patricia Bunning Stevens, Ohio University Press, 1998.
The American Heritage cookbook: and illustrated history of American eating & drinking, by Cleveland Amory, Lucius Morris Beebe, Helen Claire Duprey Bullock and Helen McCully, Publisher: Distribution by Simon and Schuster, American Heritage; 1964.