Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chicken à la King

I get lots of emails about pressure cookery. Questions about using frozen ingredients keep popping up, and everyone wants to know the secret of transforming frozen meats into a flavorful meal that will not only smell delicious, but look appetizing too.

The short answer is, YES, you can really cook frozen meats, although I wouldn't recommend tossing a frozen clump of meat into the pressure cooker as a matter of routine. I know, when its crunch time, busy people sometimes run out of both time and options when it comes to getting dinner on the table. I have written a comprehensive article on the website, Help! It's Frozen, which demystifies the use of frozen meats.

Today, I want to focus on a recipe for cooking frozen chicken breasts so they don't end up looking so blanched and unappetizing. The fact is, frozen meats cook up bland and tasteless without browning, so how can we add aroma, flavor and visual appeal to frozen chicken?

A suitable recipe should lots of flavor enhancing ingredients like aromatic herbs and vegetables. A colorful and well seasoned sauce, or plenty of other bright, contrasting ingredients that will make the dish look more visually appealing. While we're at it, lets make this a casserole style meal so there's less clean up work. Sounds good to me!

That's a tall order, but I have just the thing, lets use my version of an old fashioned, classic dish, Chicken à la King. Okay, lets get started... and don't forget to click of the photos here to see the BIG picture.

I'm going to use a recipe that incorporates the PIP method for the peas in a modified version of the Tiered cooking technique. These are some of the Advanced pressure cooking techniques that take advantage of the new features found in today's modern pressure cookers.

The chopped celery, bell peppers, onions and rice are stirred into a blend of hot EVOO and margarine in the pressure cooker. Stir the mixture until grains are coated and look translucent. Click the photo to see what I mean.

The recipe calls for frozen peas because they will cook slower than thawed peas and so retain their bright color. For the same reason, I'm using a Pyrex bowl because glass and ceramic dishes heat slower, but retain heat longer, than metal inserts. See this chart on my website for the Quick Guide To Heat Conduction Properties. 

These poor, icy peas look rather sad, but don't worry, they will still plump up all nice and pretty at the end. Normally the peas cook in just 3 minutes and they use the Cold Water Release to stay bright and fresh looking, so we really need to slow down the cooking process for them.

You see I'm also covering the bowl with a sheet of foil to protect the peas from direct exposure to the super heated steam. Again, the whole purpose is to delay the cooking time for the peas so they fit in with the other recipe ingredients. Otherwise, they would over-cook, loose their color, shape and texture in the 7 minutes required to cook the pearl rice. 

All the ingredients are in the pressure cooker now, and the bowl of frozen peas is safely nestled right on top of it all. Here we go; after 7 minutes of cooking and the natural release, the rice and chicken are tender, and the peas are still tender, plump and brilliantly green.

Now isn't that a pretty dish, the blanched chicken is a perfect match to the white rice and the bright colored veggies!

Miss Vickie's Chicken à la King

But its not just looks that count, is it? As soon as the lid is removed, you can smell the wonderful aroma coming from the herbs, peppers and onions. The rice has absorbed the flavoring liquids and the meat is tender and juicy, and just infused with flavor from the wine and stock. When the brilliantly colored peas and pimentos are added, we've got a dish that tastes and smells just as good as it looks. Now you know the secret to transforming tasteless, frozen chicken into a delicious, main course meal.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon margarine
4 fresh or frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 1/2 pearl rice, or any short grain variety
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 (2 ounce) jar pimentos, diced
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms, either fresh button or dried ivory Portobello
1 (10 ounce) can cream of chicken or mushroom soup
2 cups frozen peas
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup white wine
1 (16 ounce) can chicken stock
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients except peas and the pimentos in the pressure cooker. Stir to mix. Put the frozen peas in a ceramic or glass bowl and cover securely with a sheet of aluminum foil. Center the bowl on top of the other ingredients in the pressure cooker. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 7 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid.

Remove the bowl of peas and drain off any water. Remove the chicken breasts to a cutting board and cut into bite sized pieces. Return the chicken pieces and the peas to the pressure cooker, add the diced pimentos, gently folding them into the rice mixture. Serve immediately.


Tuna à la King is as easy as replacing the chicken with a 12 1/2-ounce can of water packed tuna.

Turkey à la King is a really good way to use leftover turkey.

Shrimp, Crab or Lobster à la King, substitute about 1/3 pound frozen seafood chunks for the chicken.

So... was this information helpful to you?

Any questions on this recipe, or the different pressure cooking techniques I used?

Please add your comments... I'd really appreciate feedback from those who try this recipe. Let me know what you think, so I can determine if I might need to tweak the recipe a little bit.

Can you see where the techniques I used here might be useful with some of your own recipes?


texaslily said...

Gosh, did this bring back some nostalgic memories! I remember my mother serving a dish that looked just like this. I want to cook this up for for my kids and tell them stories about their grandma. She passed away when they were toddlers so they don't really remember her, but food is such a great link to sharing the past. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

homequeen2 said...

I tried this recipe in my new Kuhn Rikon, it was only thw third time I've used it, bit this was a keeper! Even my picky daughter who hates foods that are mixed togther ate it because it was "pretty".

I'm still a nervous novice at this, bit I'm committed to using it twice a week, and each time I get a little more confident. I have your cookbook and it has really helped explain things. Thanks for sharing your experience!

bobbcalif said...

Great memories! I remember my mom used to cook this dish in her pressure cooker too. Sadly, when she passed, being a 'guy' I never thought to save her recipes. Older and wiser now, I've been collection family recipes to make a cookbook for my daughter who is getting married in December. This one is going into the collection! Thanks again.

Dorey said...

I found your website after I bought your book at Borders! I am so excited! Can I make this with brown rice?

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I came upon your site! I have been using a pressure cooker to make delicious meals for years and when I tell my friends about it, they are intrigued, but express fear and intimidation at the prospect of using this method of cooking. I am going to start recommending this site to them. You are so informative and encouraging. I am hoping you can make believers out of them. Nice site. Well organized!

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