The Contested Origins Of Chicken à La King

chicken a la king in bowl
chicken a la king in bowl - Lauripatterson/Getty Images
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

One of the things that makes chicken great is its versatility; you can do seemingly anything with chicken in any variety of cooking preparations with any variety of flavors. But that versatility means there will be a plethora of chicken dishes out there -- many of which will fall out of fashion as time goes on. One notable example is chicken à la King, poultry in a creamy, mushroom-laden sauce served over some combination of starch and vegetables. It's a dish that was wildly popular in the 1950s but has fallen off significantly since; it's joined plenty of other forgotten dishes.

But where did chicken a la King come from in the first place? Was it another artifact of the post-World War II decades? Actually, no: Its history goes back longer than that. As for its specific origins, well, that's a little more complicated. See, there are competing origin stories for chicken à la King -- although funny enough, none of them cite an actual king as their inspiration. But beyond that, there are five possible origins.

Read more: French Cooking Tricks You Need In Your Life

It Didn't Come From France

bowl of chicken a la king
bowl of chicken a la king - AS Foodstudio/Shutterstock

Chicken à la King may have a French name, but it has no connection to France. Its origin stories may disagree, but they all come together on the same point: This is a dish named after an American. It's no surprise, then, that the "king" in chicken à la King doesn't have to do with any member of a royal family but instead one of several people with the surname King or Keene. There are references to chicken a la King dating back to 1665, but in all likelihood, these are separate from the more modern incarnation (and they don't involve specific written recipes anyway).

First are the two competing non-King stories, in which the dish was first named chicken à la Keene. In the first instance, this was James R. Keene, a well-known Wall Street trader and horse breeder, and the dish was created at a hotel in London in 1881 after Keene's horse Foxhall won the Grand Prix de Paris, becoming the first American horse to do so. In the second instance, it was named after James Keene's son Foxhall P. Keene (confusingly, he had the same name as his father's horse), who suggested the core concept of the dish to the chef at Delmonico's sometime in the 1880s. In both cases, the idea is the dish eventually evolved in name to chicken à la King because it sounds more regal and fancy.

Any Of These Stories Could Be True

skillet of chicken a la king
skillet of chicken a la king - from my point of view/Shutterstock

Then, there are the two surname King stories. In one of these, it was created sometime in the 1890s by Chef George Greenwald at the Brighton Beach Hotel in New York and named after the owner, E. Clark King II. In another, a 1915 New York Times obituary claims William King of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia created it, also in the 1890s. Finally, there's the last origin, which isn't a story at all: Fannie Merritt Farmer included two recipes for the dish in her 1896 version of the "Boston Cooking School Cook Book."

So, which of these origin stories is correct? The two with the most evidence are the Brighton Beach one and Fannie Merritt Farmer's. The Brighton Beach origin is referenced in "The New York Times Food Encyclopedia" and backed up in a brochure provided by photographer James N. Keen (not related to the Keenes from the first two stories -- seriously, this dish's origin has so many weird, confusing terminology overlaps) claiming the hotel is the dish's birthplace. Meanwhile, Farmer's inclusion in the cookbook is the first written hard evidence, so we know any story set after 1896 has to be false.

But really, any of the stories could be true. It's impossible to know which is the correct one. None of them are so wildly fanciful we can dismiss them outright; all feel generally realistic. A lot of this just comes down to which you choose to believe.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.