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~ Gobble Gobble: Rich and Creamy Turkey à la King ~

IMG_6149Talk about a tasty use for turkey leftovers. Turkey à la king is a spin-off of chicken à la king -- an all-American comfort-food creation. At this time of year, with Turkey Day just around the corner, it is, obviously, a very tasty use for leftover turkey. That said, by using quick-to-cook stovetop-poached or oven-roasted turkey tenderloins, it is a wonderful alternative if you want to serve turkey in a non-traditional way for a more laid-back or take-to-a-potluck feast.  Make no mistake, we're not talking "cream of canned any kind of soup" thrown into a skillet or a casserole.

À la king vs. pot pie -- À la king is not pot pie & vice versa.

IMG_6160You'd be surprised (perhaps not) how many folks think the same mixture that goes into pot pie, is the same mixture that gets used to make à la king.  It is not.  If the mixture it is similar to anything, it would be that contained in other all-American creations like chicken or turkey Divan, chicken or turkey Tetrazzini, and even tuna noodle casserole.  Read on to find out the difference:  

In its purest form, à la king is a refined, American restaurant dish consisting of perfectly-poached white-meat chicken or turkey stirred into a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms, and, green peppers (peas are commonly substituted by people who don't care for peppers).  Classically, it's served served over toast points, puff pastry or rice (with noodles or pasta being acceptable substitutions).  Pot pie is a very thick, gravy-like stock-based chicken stew that contains noodles or is topped with a pastry crust.  Worst case pot pie recipes are made using cream of chicken soup.  For those of you who are inclined to disagree with my assessment:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78bca7c970bIn 1980, in a New York Times article, Craig Claiborne shared the original recipe for chicken à la king (reprinted from a brochure given to him by a reader).  Here is the original ingredients list:

butter, chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, flour, salt, cream,  poached chicken, egg yolks, onion juice, lemon juice, sherry, pimiento (for garnish), toast points (for serving)

Notice:  The original recipe contains no chicken stock, it is made with a cream-based béchamel-type sauce, and, pimientos are used as garnish, not a stirred-in ingredient (all of which are common misconceptions in modern day à la king recipes.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chicken à la king was the pinnacle of upscale comfort food in New York City.  In that era, almost anything with a vaguely-sounding French name was adopted by appetites of the rich and powerful.  That said, it's not French, and, there are several NYC restaurant chefs claiming the origin of the dish, most notably:  Delmonico's, the Brighton Beach Hotel, and, the Plaza.  The most credible account, however, is that it was created in the 1890's by a hotel cook, William "Bill" King, of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, as it appeared in his obituary in 1915, as well as a New York Tribune editorial written shortly thereafter.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d115740c970cIn the 1950's, chicken à la king was a staple on the menus of elegant wedding receptions, expensive banquets, and, fancy sit-down in-home dinner parties all across America.  Sadly, as James Beard lamented in his 1972 book, James Beard's American Cookery, "chicken à la king, now usually prepared in a mediocre fashion, can be quite good if prepared with care, using fine ingredients."  This can be said of too many things we Americans eat, but, since I'm in the business of writing and publishing really-good, high-quality recipes, you'll find no mediocre  shortcuts or ingredients in my version.

Part One:  Oven-Roasting or Poaching Turkey Tenderloins

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached or roasted turkey tenderloin served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

IMG_5803 IMG_5858 IMG_5858Step 1.  Poach (photo #1) or roast (photo #2) 1 1/2-2 pounds turkey tenderloins according to my directions provided in the links, cool until meat can be handled comfortably with the hands, then pull it into bite-sized pieces.  The alternative is to use turkey breast leftover from your Thanksgiving feast.

Part Two:  Sautéing the Vegetables

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb2443200bFor the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

3/5  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced mushroom caps.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c7163e200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c71647200d~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Toss into the pasta mixture and set aside.

Part Three:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb24aa200b4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon:  garlic powder, cayenne pepper & sea salt

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons dry sherry

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb24f7200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c670f3200d~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.

Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly the entire time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c67124200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d38ae200c~ Step 2. Continue to cook until sauce is smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, 2-3-4 tablespoons, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce. Add and toss into pasta mix.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78bd822970b~ Step 3.  Turn heat off and fold in the turkey and vegetable mixture. Cover and allow to rest, on the warm stovetop, for 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors time to marry. Serve scooped atop toast points, in puff pastry shells, or over steamed rice, cooked noodles or pasta. Garnish each portion with a a few pimientos, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and/or a parsley sprig. Reheat leftover a la king mixture over low heat on the stovetop, adding a bit of milk, as necessary to control (thin) the consistency.

Taste & admit:  real-deal à la king exceeds all expectations:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49f2c1e200cToday's classic choice:  over rice with brioche toast points:

IMG_6158Gobble Gobble: Rich and Creamy Turkey à la King:  Recipe yields 2 generous quarts, 8+ cups of à la king mixture, or, 6-8 hearty main-course servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon or small whisk 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23924fb970cCook's Note: Melted butter, flour and hot milk.  Whisk it all together with some salt and pepper to taste, simmer it for a few short minutes and you've got ~ Plain, Simple & Unpretentious Basic White Sauce ~, also known as béchamel sauce. It's one of the things I learned to make in Home Economics, and, the recipe the teacher used was out of a 1960's or '70's edition of the The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was kept on a shelf along with a few of her other favorites.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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