Earlier this week my CrossFit friend Jennifer emailed me looking for help in creating a Paleo version of her husband’s favorite dish. Seems her husband has an affinity for Chicken ala King. She wanted to make him some, but was stuck on how to remove the gluten needed for thickening as well as concerns about using wine and cream.

I was immediately reminded of some of the wonderful one pot French stew comfort food dishes I had learned back in Chef School. So hearty and satisfying, with cooler Fall weather approaching, I was excited to help. So I asked her to send me her traditional recipe so I could go through it and make some recommendations on how to clean it up. Thinking I would get an awesome old recipe hand written by her grandmother many years ago that would hark back to Fannie Farmer or even the Larousse Gastronomique, I laughed out loud when, instead of a recipe, she sent me this picture:

Yes, really.

In her words,
“I’m going to throw XXX(Name Redacted)XXX under the bus here…he loves the Swanson Chicken a la king. He’s a cheap date!! I never actually had to make it for him.”


Realizing there was nowhere to go but up, I jumped in and started sending her information that would help create a really satisfying and healthy dish.

First, I would like to point out that the canned item is exactly what Paleo people and great cooks are fighting against on several different levels. It isn’t real food. It doesn’t taste anything like real Chicken a la King. It’s full of sodium. It’s full of preservatives. It’s full of MSG.

Next, I would like to point out that just by sending her a traditional scratch recipe for Chicken a la King, complete with flour gluten thickener, we would be doing her husband a favor. A traditional recipe wouldn’t contain any of the artificial ingredients, preservatives and flavor enhancers, thus, he’d be eating healthier, even with the flour. And if we could come up with a Paleo, gluten free option, then that would be even better.

And yet, no matter how hard we try, the disappointing response we will get is, “Well your new recipe is good Craig, but it doesn’t taste like what I grew up with.” Good. I hope not! I really don’t want my recipe to taste like salty stringy canned meat. It’s time to adjust our taste buds folks. It’s time to embrace the Slow Food movement!

The origins of Chicken a la King is clouded in some mystery. Some food historians say it was created at Delmonico’s in New York City or out at a resort in Brighton Beach. Still others feel it was invented in either London or Philadelphia. What we do know for sure is that it first started appearing in food news stories and references under the “a la King” name in the 1880s.

However, the French created the basis for what “a la King” is hundreds of years before that. Chicken Fricassee (Fricassee De Poulet A L’Ancienne) is a traditional peasant dish made from hearty and humble ingredients and traditionally prepared in a single pot. Chicken is browned, mirepoix is cooked, Vegies are added, roux is created, wine and stock are combined, and cream is added to help thicken the sauce. It has traditional flavors of mushrooms, sherry, thyme, nutmeg and green peas and is traditionally served over pasta, puff pastry or toast points. You may have even had a version in which dumplings are poached in the broth towards the end of the cooking process. The variations and names for this type of dish are almost endless.

The main difference between A la King and Fricassee is that A la King was created as an original convenience food as a way to reuse leftover roasted chicken. The Fricassee traditionally takes a fresh chicken from raw to cooked.


Serves 4

– 1 whole chicken cut into pieces
– Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
– 2+1 Tablespoons Grass Fed butter
– 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 small yellow onion, chopped
– 3 small carrots, chopped
– 1 celery stalk, chopped
– 12-16 ounces mushrooms, quartered
– 3 TBS fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
– 2 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
– 1 bay leaf (left whole if dried(remove after cooking), chopped small if fresh)
– 1/4 tsp nutmeg, fresh grated
– Pinch of cayenne
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 4 cups chicken broth
– 1 pkg dry, unflavored gelatin
– 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
– 1/4 cup heavy cream
– 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

1. Towel dry chicken pieces, apply salt and pepper

2. On your stove, Heat a large Dutch Oven on Medium High heat. Melt 2TBS of the Butter and the Olive Oil and brown all Chicken pieces (skin side down first!) Don’t overcrowd your chicken, you may need to brown it in batches. Allow 10 minutes per batch. Flip chicken pieces half way through cooking. Transfer cooked chicken pieces to a plate.

3. On Medium heat, sauté Onion, Carrots and Celery (mirepoix) for 7-10 minutes, using a wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven.

4. Add Mushrooms and continue to sauté for 5 minutes until they darken and begin to release their liquid.

5. Add the Herbs and Spices and stir well to combine.

6. Add Wine and Stock, stir well and begin to bring to a boil.

7. While mixture is heating on stove, remove 1 cup of liquid and in a bowl, combine it with the Gelatin. When combined, add mixture to the Dutch oven and continue to bring to a boil.

8. Add Chicken pieces and any accumulated juices, to the pot, layering them on top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and partially cover. Cook chicken until it registers 165degrees internally aprox 20-25 minutes.
9. Transfer cooked Chicken pieces to a plate, and increase stove temperature to reduce the liquid.
10. In a bowl, whisk together Egg Yolks and Heavy Cream. Whisking constantly, add 4oz of hot cooking liquid (1oz at a time to prevent cooking the egg yolks!) to temper the liaison.


11. Add liaison to the Dutch oven, stir well, and turn off stove heat.

12.Add remaining Butter, and Lemon Juice, stir well, and add chicken pieces back in to the sauce to coat them well. Place dish on table and enjoy!


PALEO NOTES: To make this dish even more Paleo, you can eliminate the wine, as well as not add the liaison mixture of egg yolk and cream. Also, if you don’t wish to add the gelatin, then you can take extra time to reduce the cooking liquid all the way down until it thickens up on its own. Other gluten free thickener options to add when you add the mushrooms would be arrowroot powder, cassava, coconut or almond flour (aprox 1/4 cup.)

I served this meal over a small amount of plain white rice. As another option you might investigate making some Paleo Puff Pastries. Here is a recipe for some from our friends at EatNourishing.com

Grain Free Pâté A Choux or Cream Puff Pastry Recipe

Leave out the honey and vanilla (unless you want the dough sweet) and instead add 1.5 cups grated Gruyere cheese and 3TBS grated Parmesan just after you’ve mixed the last egg in. Then they’re called Gougeres instead of Pot au choux or Cream Puffs.

Should make something pretty tasty and crunchy to go under the finished chicken dish. Enjoy!

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