Alex D. Hawkes lived many years in the beautiful neighborhood known as Coconut Grove in Miami, Florida. Sitting on Biscayne Bay, “The Grove” is a small neighborhood that houses some of the earliest structures in all of Miami & Dade County. It is covered with an innumerable amount of flora, oak trees, impressive banyan trees that cover Main Highway, and many more luscious plants. It is among the best areas in Miami to gain a perspective of what Miami, “The Magic City” looked like prior to roads and the automobile, and the “tremendous destruction of our forests and fields through the process of “civilization”” — (Alex D. Hawkes, American Fern Journal, 1964)
With such scenic and historical locations such as The Barnacle Historic State Park, inhabited by one of the first residents of what was then called the “Scrububs”, Kirk “Commodore” Munroe, and his wife Mary Barr. Another gem still available for the public’s enjoyment is Dr. David Fairchild’s “Kampong”, built by the Dr. and his wife Marian Hubbard Bell, daughter of Alexander Graham Bell and Mabel Gardiner Hubbard. Nestled in Coconut Grove you’ll find the breathtaking “Kampong” adorned by mother nature herself, a lush botanical paradise sitting against Miami’s Biscayne Bay. When Graham Bell stayed at “The Kampong” he insisted on not having a telephone installed in the cottage he lodged at. Peculiar, noting that Graham Bell is noted as one of the inventors of the telephone. When visiting Miami and Coconut Grove, this botanical oasis is not to be missed, when in “Grovite” Alex’s hometown.
Although the Coconut Grove neighborhood is currently undergoing harsh renovations, as it has been for quite some time, let us revel in this dish and the history that surrounds this recipe and Alex’s inclination to name this creation as he did. While houses can be torn down, this recipe should never be put to rest. The recipe for Chicken Coconut Grove was fittingly devised in Alex’s Coconut Grove kitchen. It’s unique not solely because the name of the dish matches the town, but also because, botanist Alex D. Hawkes was a renowned palm expert.
Alex’s shares with us in his first cookbook, ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964) that it is not known where the Coconut, one of the best-known of all palms, is native. The ‘Cocos nucifera’ means “nut bearing”, and as Alex shares this is certainly appropriate. Perhaps botanists have already figured out where it is indigenous? If not Alex and his more learned colleagues were certainly going nuts over coconuts for a good reason. Alex also shared that South Florida is the only place in the Continental United States where Coconuts can be grown outside without protection. As is such, let us enjoy this delicious Chicken Coconut Grove out of coconut shells. Seek out coconut wherever you may be and partake of this quite ingenious culinary creation ‘Chicken Coconut Grove’.
Reminiscing on supermarket staples of the 1950s & 1960s, Chicken à la King has an interesting story. Rather than using a modern day canned equivalent or a Chicken à la frozen food section, we sought out direction from The Dean of American cooking, someone whom Alex D. Hawkes was very familiar with, James A. Beard. In James Beard’s American Cookery (1972) [Little, Brown & Company] there’s a wonderful recipe for this dish. Thanks to google we can retrieve a preview of that recipe from Beard’s book at the link below.
In the article linked below, another one of Alex’s pen-pals, Craig Claiborne shares a nibbling about Chicken à la King, along with a recipe that he originally shared via his food column in a 1980s edition of the ‘The New York Times’. The article linked below was written by Leah Koenig.
Notice Hawkes & Beard both call for Sherry (Chinese Shaoxing rice wine), may also be used. The wine should be added during the sauté if used. The coconut water, is added before the sawed coconut shells are put into the oven. Choose whichever recipe you like best and cook over the stove until it is about 50% done. Then, transfer the mixture into the coconut shells as Alex instructs, and finish cooking the dish in the oven. It is recommended to use a thermometer and adjust times as needed for your oven. Use best judgment and exercise caution when cutting the coconut shells with a saw, and during cooking. Use a drill to puncture the “eyes” of the coconuts. Enjoy!
CHICKEN COCONUT GROVE – Alex D. Hawkes
4 fresh semi-ripe coconuts
3 cups chicken à la king (Recipes linked above)
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup coconut water
1/8 ts Cayenne pepper
2 ts minced chives
4 thick slice Cuban, or French, bread
3 Tbsp flour
The Chicken Coconut Grove recipe also appears in Mandy Baca’s book “The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs and Empanadas“