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Turkey (or Chicken, or Ham) à la King



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So, are you groaning yet? Can you not even believe that I am publishing
this recipe??? Yes indeed, the very title "à la king" appended to turkey,
chicken, ham, tuna, or whatever has become quite the unpopular food
cliché. Despite the fact that the dish is much maligned, it can be quite
delicious when it is prepared well, by which I mean with care. Better
yet, with TLC!

Just what IS à la king, anyway, other than that awful stuff so often
served at women's luncheons, bridge parties, etc.? According to one
of our favorite food reference books, Food Lover's Companion
(Sharon Tyler Herbst, © 1995, Barron's Educational Series), it is:
"A dish of diced food (usually chicken or turkey) in a rich cream
sauce containing mushrooms, pimientos, green peppers, and
sometimes Sherry."

Our friends at provide somewhat more information:
There are many stories about the origin of Chicken à la King, and many
of them sound plausible. It is a dish of diced chicken, mushrooms, green
peppers, and pimientos in a cream sherry sauce served on toast. [Stories
date] from 1881 to the 1920s.
The most likely candidate: Created by Chef George Greenwald, at the
Brighton Beach Hotel, New York, in either 1898 or 'the early 1900s. He
prepared a special chicken dish one evening for the owners, Mr. & Mrs.
E. Clark King II. The next day, either Mr. King loved it and wanted it on
the menu or Chef Greenwald asked if he could put it on the menu. In either
case, it was added to the menu as Chicken à la King ($1.25), and quickly
became a great success."

"This is supposed to be a recipe for chicken a la King taken from
a brochure of the 1960s, obtained from the Brighton Beach Hotel,
where this dish probably originated:"

"Melt 2 tablespoonfuls of butter and then add 1/2 of a green pepper
shredded and 1 cup of mushrooms sliced thin.
Stir and cook 5 minutes and then add 2 level tablespoonfuls of flour
and 1/2 teaspoonful of salt.
Cook until frothy and then add 1 pint of cream and stir until
sauce thickens.
Put this all in a double boiler, add 3 cups of chicken cut in pieces
and let stand to get very hot.
In the meantime, take 1/4 cup of butter and beat into it the yolks
of 3 eggs, teaspoonful of onion juice, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
and 1/2 teaspoonful of paprika.
Stir this mixture until the eggs thicken a little. Combine the two,
add a little sherry and finally shredded pimiento before serving
on toast."

The sauce itself is basically that of Seafood Newburg, defined in the
Food Lover's Companion as "an extraordinarily rich dish of chopped
cooked shellfish... in an elegant sauce composed of butter, cream, egg
yolks, Sherry and seasonings."

As best I can recall, I present to you my mother's version. In any case,
this is the way I am making it today...

Gigi's Turkey à la King

The most important component of this recipe - the one that separates
 it from the banal - is that you have not only delicious turkey left over,
but also at least 2 cups of most excellent, rich turkey stock. This is the
serendipity of roasting a turkey the old-fashioned, traditional way.
Gigi chose to use a
velouté sauce rather than a Newburg sauce for
her Turkey à la King. And by the way, much to her dismay, the male
family members generally referred to this dish as "that creamed
turkey stuff". No matter. The point is that they loved it, and would
often (believe it or not!) request it.
velouté is simply a basic Béchamel using vegetable, meat or
seafood stock for a portion of the liquid. Gigi went with half stock
and half milk (or perhaps cream, depending...)

1 stick (1/2 cup, or 8 tablespoons) butter,
preferably unsalted
1 bunch scallions, washed,
trimmed, thinly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, sliced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned, minced
1/2 cup flour
2 cups turkey stock, heated
2 cups milk or half-and-half,
Salt and pepper to taste, depending on
how highly seasoned the stock is
At least 3 cups diced turkey meat
Cooked, well-drained green peas, to taste
(optional, but a must for Gigi))
4 large eggs, hard-boiled, cooled,
peeled, chopped
4 ounces pimiento, minced
Sherry, a goodly splash, or
to taste (optional)

Begin by melting the butter in a large heavy saucepan. In it sauté the
scallions, mushrooms, and bell pepper until the vegetables are tender, and
the liquid given off by the mushrooms has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup flour, whisking the mixture, and cook the roux over low heat, stirring constantly,
about 3 minutes being careful not to scorch it. Slowly add the stock and
the milk or half-and-half, whisking, and bring to a simmer. Add the diced turkey and peas (if using), and simmer the mixture briefly, stirring. Taste
and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Just before serving, stir in the hard-boiled eggs, diced pimiento, and Sherry. Gigi preferred to serve this dish
over hot biscuits or cornbread, but toast will certainly do, if you prefer.
How many hungry folks does this serve? Hard to say... 4 to 6, probably.

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