Retro food: Chicken a la King
Lately leftover chicken seems to grow in our refrigerator like chives or mint. No matter how much you get rid of, there's always more. Every time I go to the supermarket I buy at least one chicken, often some extra parts too, because the kid likes it, it's cheap, and it always get eaten. I really like it too, especially dark meat that's been brined (1/3 cup table salt to 1 qt. water for at least 4 hrs) and roasted. I'm getting tired of chicken enchiladas, our old favorite leftover chicken dish (we call it "chickenench") and there's only so much chicken salad a person can eat. So the other day I started looking through the cookbooks and came upon the "Brunch, Lunch, and Supper Dishes" chapter of an early 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking which my mother seemed all too happy to part with several years ago. Brunch, lunch, and supper: that's everything except breakfasts and snacks! What a chapter!
The JoC is such a great book and so many of its recipes, from this edition anyway, sound hilarious or outrageous. There's Chicken Creole, Chicken Divan, Chicken Hash, Quantity Chicken Loaf, and Chicken a la King, and that's just the chicken recipes. There is also Duck Pilaf, Pigs in Potatoes, Creamed Chipped Beef, Leftovers in Bacon, Lamb Terrapin, Lobster Parfait, Canned Fish Roe in Ramekins, and several pages of sandwiches including Peanut Butter and Tomato, which also contains bacon and paprika. I love their names if nothing else about them, and these dishes say something profound about how quickly our eating tastes have changed. So I've started making some of the old recipes and am finding them to be surprisingly edible. Last week I made a chicken pot pie (though I improv'd a biscuit crust--made with lard, kosher folks!--instead of what JoC suggested) and it was dreamy good. Today I made this Chicken a la King, from p. 235.
First I sauteed mushrooms in butter and set them aside. Meanwhile, I shredded the meat off of two legs, a thigh, and whatever else was left on the carcass of this week's roast. Then I heated up some schmaltz (saved from the roast) and made a roux with some flour. Then I stirred in homemade stock and a congealed hockey puck of chicken jus (again, saved from the roast) to make a sauce. The JoC says you can also use cream, but I had homemade stock and anyway this dish doesn't want of richness. When it was saucy and hot, I added in a small jar of pimentos (what a classic ingredient!), the mushrooms, and the chicken. The JoC offers the option of also adding slivered almonds, but I wanted to be able to feed this to the kid and he's not yet a nut eater. Then I did something I never would have come up with on my own: I tempered an egg yolk into the sauce for added thickening and richness and then, when it was incorporated, added a little glug of Shaoxing wine (in place of sherry). I salted and peppered to taste and I served it as you see above, with more baguette, today toasted, from yesterday's Public Market trip. (I am told that Chicken a la King is properly served on toast rather than next to it. Whatevs.)
It tasted like cafeteria food. I loved it.