June 2, 1953. Coronation Day for Queen Elizabeth II. It was a day of street parties, of people crowding around a neighbour’s television if they were lucky enough to find one, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new monarch. War may have ended eight years ago, but food rationing was still a part of daily life. Sugar, meat, and butter were still heavily restricted, and would be for one more year.
But this was a time for celebration. And with a new queen came a new dish: Coronation Chicken.
In London’s Westminster School, a banquet lunch was served to several hundred people. Tasked with creating the menu were Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, founders of the city’s Cordon Bleu school. The dish contained a hint of curry powder, as an homage to the British Empire, but not so much as to overwhelm a national palate that had become dulled by years of rationing.
Since then, Coronation Chicken has gone on to become well-known but also poorly-replicated. Over the decades, in attempts to make everything quicker and easier, it has been reduced to little more than soggy chicken in a curry mayonnaise. Often you might also find a sultana, an almond, or lump of mango thrown in for good measure, none of which appeared in the original recipe.
And so today, we’re enjoying a return to the proper Coronation Chicken. It is an excellent cold salad. Rice with cucumbers, peas, and herbs makes a perfect accompaniment.
Hume and Spry’s Coronation Chicken
This recipe is featured in The Constance Spry Cookery Book
1 tbs oil
50g/2oz onion, diced
1 dessert spoon curry powder
1 tsp tomato purée
1 wineglass red wine
¾ wineglass water
1 bay leaf
Salt, sugar, a touch of pepper
A slice or two of lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice
1-2 tbsp apricot purée
450ml/¾ pint mayonnaise
2-3 tbs lightly whipped cream
Poach the chickens in water with a little wine and bouquet garni for 40 minutes or so, until cooked thoroughly. Allow the chickens to cool before removing the meat from the bones and cutting into chunks.
Heat the oil and cook the onion gently for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook for another minute.
Add the tomato puree, the wine, water, and the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add a pinch each of salt, sugar, and pepper, as well as the lemon slices and lemon juice. Leave the pan uncovered and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Then strain the mix, keeping the liquid. Allow the liquid to cool.
Stir the apricot puree into the mayonnaise. Slowly add the cooled liquid, mixing as you go. Lastly, add the mixed cream to lighten the sauce texture.
Combine the sauce with the chicken and serve with a rice salad.