Cook This: Bring Chicken a la King Back to Life with Our Crostini Recipe

February 22, 2017

Like Tamagotchi toys or Vanessa Carlton, Chicken a la King is one of those things previously in vogue but has since been sadly forgotten (unless brought up in some kitschy tongue-in-cheek context). The dish—a creamy chicken mix with mushrooms and bell peppers, usually served on bread, rice, or puff pastry—has multiple origins, but is most typically credited to a certain Chef George Greenwald who created it for the owners of a certain Brighten Beach Hotel, named Mr. and Mrs. King. The earliest version is theorized to have been introduced sometime between 1883 and 1886, and the first few recipes found believed to have formed the dish’s origin were mostly based on the French classic chicken fricasee with a number of other additions, among them the ever-luxurious truffles. The dish became popular in the US in the 20th century, where for a long time it held a fancy-schmancy reputation. In the Philippines, the dish—seemingly among the slew of American recipes that made their way to our shores—enjoyed a similar level of popularity as well.

But from its grandiose beginnings, Chicken a la King would—as food writer Marian Burros put it—go the direction of molded gelatin salads and other culinary atrocities prepared with mediocre processed ingredients. A popular recipe around 1969 (care of the Betty Crocker cookbook) called for canned mushrooms, bouillon cubes, and jarred pimiento. And for the most part today, it’s been renounced into a bastardized concoction that can be found in the ready-made section of the grocery store. Versions with dry meat, soggy vegetables, and flavorless mushrooms in a starchy, overly creamy sauce better spell sadness than anything close to opulence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here, we breathe life into the oft-corrupted dish by turning it into party-friendly hors d’oevres in the form of crostini. Essentially a bite-sized open-faced sandwich, good crostini needs a variety of flavors and textures—qualities you wouldn’t immediately associate with Chicken a la King. So we introduce it by way of the vegetables.

Instead of mushy veggies that get lost in the sauce, we cook them separately and use them as a topping. We keep the bell peppers crisp, sautéing them just briefly and stir them into the mixture only toward the end. We also use two different kinds of fresh mushrooms—the oyster and button (a.k.a. “white”) varieties (though you are free to use the even more flavorful shiitake, porcini, or other wild mushrooms)—which we cook down and caramelize for better depth of flavor.

We don’t completely shun the canned stuff however; here, we stir in non-traditional (but nonetheless tasty) canned cream of corn into the chicken mixture, which lends a mild sweetness and a hint of creaminess without turning the dish too cloying. Put your fancy pants on and arrange it meticulously if you feel like it, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t just enjoy this straight up spooned onto the toasts, or, heck, just right out of the pot.

Chicken A La King

YIELD: 5 portions
Time: 2 hours

Ingredients: Chicken mixture

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 300g chicken fillet, cubed 1cm x 1cm
  • 1 pc onion, minced
  • 3 pcs garlic cloves, minced
  • 200g cream of corn (about ½ can)
  • 100 ml cooking cream
  • salt, to taste

ingredients: vegetables

  • 3 tsp oil
  • 1 pc red bell pepper, deseeded and diced 1 cm x 1 cm
  • 1 pc green bell pepper, deseeded and diced 1 cm x 1 cm
  • 30g oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 30g button mushrooms, quartered
  • salt, to taste

Ingredients: Crostini

  • 5 slices focaccia, sliced 2 cm thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • parsley, to garnish

procedure: chicken mixture

  1. Heat butter in pan.
  2. Add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent.
  3. Add chicken and toss through.
  4. Mix in the creamed corn.
  5. Simmer until chicken is cooked.
  6. Finish with cream and season to taste.

procedure: vegetables

  1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add oil.
  2. Bring the heat up to the smoking point.
  3. Add red bell pepper and season. Toss in a bit of the oil and remove from the pan. The pepper should still be bright red and crispy.
  4. Repeat the previous step with the green peppers.
  5. Once the peppers are cooked, set them aside. Wipe the pan clean and place back on the heat.
  6. Add a tablespoon of oil and bring up to the smoking point.
  7. Add the oyster mushrooms and season with salt.
  8. When the oyster mushrooms have caramelized, turn them over to brown the other side.
  9. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  10. Repeat steps 6–8 with the button mushrooms.
  11. Set the cooked vegetables aside for plating.

PROCEDURE: crostini

  1. Heat oven up to 140˚C.
  2. Lay out focaccia slices on a tray.
  3. Drizzle with oil.
  4. Place in oven and bake until crispy, around 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from pan and set aside.

Procedure: assembly

  1. Reheat the chicken mixture. Have mushrooms and bell peppers ready.
  2. Lay out crostini on plate and spoon chicken mixture on top.
  3. Spoon chicken on bread and top with vegetables.
  4. Garnish with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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