Murder, She Wrote Cookbook | House of Hickman Chicken and the Cheddar Cheese soup saga

American actor Dwayne Hickman (b 1934) is best known as the title character in the 1960s US sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis opposite future Gilligan’s Island star Bob Denver, and appearing in a handful of American International Pictures drive-in teen flicks like How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. He and his Bikini co-star Frankie Avalon also teamed up for the 1965 Vincent Price spy spoof Dr Goldfoot & the Bikini Machine.

So when it came to testing out a recipe for Jenny Hammerton’s forthcoming culinary collection, the Murder, She Wrote Cookbook, I couldn’t resist trying out Dwayne’s House of Hickman Chicken. Little did I imagine just what a saga it would turn out to be.

Now although this is Dwayne’s recipe, it was his first wife Carol who actually did all the cooking in the Hickman household. The story goes that while Carol (who was married to Dwayne from 1963 to 1972) was spending a week in New York, some of the couple’s friends had decided to drop in on Dwayne, who then decided to cook dinner for everyone.

He remembered a favourite recipe that Carol had made with chicken and cream of mushroom soup. By mistake, however, he added in cheese soup, but it was one of those great accidents, as it went on to become the standard way to make the dish over at the Hickmans.

American actor Dwayne Hickman at home with his wife, actress Carol Christensen (1937 – 2005), circa 1965. (Photo by Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Here’s Dwayne’s original recipe… and what it looked like on my first attempt.

HOUSE OF HICKMAN CHICKEN
(serves 8)

INGREDIENTS
8 half chicken breasts
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1/2 can cream of celery soup
1 cup chopped mushrooms (canned or fresh)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

METHOD
Mix the soups, onions, and mushrooms together. Lay the chicken breasts in a casserole or baking pan. (You can serve from the casserole: if you use a baking pan, you have to put the chicken on a platter when it’s done). Sprinkle with pepper, and bake in a 350C/Gas Mark 4 oven for about an hour.

MY COOKING NOTES
* As I wasn’t serving a gang, I used four chicken breasts from my local butcher and sliced them in half. I also halved all the other measurements to serve four.
* For the soup, I used standard 295g cans of Campbell’s condensed soup – (I must admit the cream of celery was hard to find, but the cheddar cheese soup was another story – see below).
* I also sautéd some extra fresh mushrooms (pan-fried in a little butter) and added them to the top of the mixture, but also kept some aside to sprinkle on top after taking it out of the oven.

MY VERDICT
Even though I used some extra mushrooms, I actually found this dish to be rather bland. Will I try it again? Probably, but I’ll certainly be adding in a dash of tabasco or some such spicy sauce. Also – as you will read – I will probably have to make my own Cheddar Cheese Soup (the recipe is at the bottom of this post).

THE CHEDDAR CHEESE SOUP SAGA
OK, so I wanted to use the exact ingredients to learn what made this dish so popular with the Hickmans. However there was a problem. It was that serendipity ingredient – the cheese soup. It’s not readily available in any UK grocery stores.

Last November (which seems like forever, now that we are all in lockdown), while I was in New York conducting one of my Vincent Price Legacy UK tours, I thought it would be so simple to just pop into a store and get a couple of cans. Uh! Uh! I couldn’t find it anywhere. However, one of our attendees, Patricia, who lives in New Mexico and is a big foodie, said she could get them cheap at her local Smith’s grocery store and send them to me. I said, great! Well, what I didn’t know was how much a can of Campbell’s condensed Cheddar Cheese soup being sent from the US to the UK was going to end up costing me.

About a month after I had returned from my trip to the US, I got an email from Patricia asking if I had received a surprise package from her. I said I hadn’t. So I did a little sleuthing and discovered that Patricia had written the wrong postcode on the package being sent to me in London. It was now sitting in a sorting office in Exeter, even though it had originally been sent to an East London postal office not far from where I live, and a delivery was attempted to a similar address to mine in Tiverton. Thankfully the staff at Royal Mail were really helpful, and they had it delivered to me the following day.

I was really so thankful to Patricia for sending me this elusive ingredient, but the cost of shipping was ouch!!!. After working it all out, those two cans came to US$22 a piece. Oh well, at least it makes for a great dinner conversation and thankfully I have found an alternative.

Those extra sautéd mushrooms really helped.

HOMEMADE CHEDDAR CHEESE SOUP
I haven’t tried this as yet as I still have one can left for another attempt, but if I do then I’ll be trying this recipe which looks like the perfect substitute for the hard to find Campbell’s Soup canned variety. Will just have to readjust the measurements, I suppose.

INGREDIENTS
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (Kosher)
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

METHOD
1) In a small saucepan add the butter and melt over low heat.
2) Add in the flour and whisk, cooking for about a minute (but stop if it turns brown at all).
3) Add in the salt, mustard and milk and whisk until smooth.
4) Add in the cheese and whisk until smooth

Prep time (5mins), Cook time (10mins)
Serves 1, Calories 712kcal

If you’d like to test a recipe for the Murder, She Wrote Cookbook, just click on the link to register.

Dwayne was also a bit of a crooner in the day… so I’ll leave you with this little ditty

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