Great British dishes - #4 Coronation chicken

You're probably wondering why I am writing about Coronation chicken when the Queen's Coronation was in 1953 and the 60th anniversary of said event was back in 2013. Well, as you may or may not know, our Queen has just celebrated her 90th birthday and it is customary in the UK to use Coronation chicken like it is going out of fashion whenever anything remotely royal occurs. Prince Philip also celebrated a birthday last week - his 95th - but nobody seemed to care.

And did you know that the Queen has two birthdays a year? I'm not sure what's going on there - maybe she just loves cake, or the Royal Household has created it's own "Windsorian" calendar, for whatever reason. It would explain why the Queen Mother was 404 when she died. Error 404 - not found.

Anyway, preparing for the banquet of the Queen's Coronation, the creation of Coronation chicken is accredited to Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume. The dish originally consisted of cold chicken and a creamy, mayonnaise-heavy curry sauce, but it would seem relatively bland to the modern palate.

Coronation chicken has evolved over the years and any glance at a salad buffet or a sandwich selection today will reveal a mixture of shredded chicken and sultanas bound in a gloopy yellow sauce that looks like it should have a half life of 4,000 years. But whilst it won't destroy your blood cells, it will destroy your clothes if you spill any on them. Ace Bleach is the only known antidote.

I just can't get my head around the meat / poultry and fruit combo. It seems so 70s. Why would anybody want to mix sultanas with chicken? Or apple with pork? Or cranberries with turkey? My dad used to make chicken curry years ago, and I use the word curry in its very loosest sense. It was more a chicken, apple and sultana stew, more a celebration of fruit than of spice. It was a fad, chucking fruit into a curry, but one that still hangs on in today's coronation chicken.

So, what I'm going to do is share the original recipe and follow that with a modern version of that recipe - one that does include those pesky pieces of fruit.

Original version

Poach two young roasting chickens with carrot, bouquet garni, salt and peppercorns in water and a little wine, as well as enough barely to cover, for about 40 minutes or until tender.

Allow to cool in the liquid. Joint the birds, removing the bones with care.

Cream of curry sauce

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 50g/2oz onion, finely chopped
  • 1 dessert spoon curry powder
  • 1 good tsp tomato purée
  • 1 wineglass red wine
  • ¾ wineglass water
  • A 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 tbsp lightly whipped cream

Heat the oil, add onion, cook gently for 3-4 minutes, add curry powder. Cook again for 1-2 minutes.

Add purée, wine, water and bay leaf. Bring to boil, add salt, sugar to taste, pepper, and the lemon and lemon juice. Simmer with the pan uncovered for 5-10 minutes.

Strain and cool. Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the apricot purée to taste.

Adjust seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary. Finish with the whipped cream. Take a small amount of sauce (enough to coat the chicken) and mix with a little extra cream and seasoning.

Mix the chicken and the sauce together, arrange on a dish, coat with the extra sauce.

 

Modern version (BBC Food)

  • 2 free range chicken breasts, skin removed1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • knob of butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons madras curry powder
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 100ml/3½fl oz dry white wine
  • 100ml/3½fl oz chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam
  • 150ml/5fl oz mayonnaise
  • 75ml/3fl oz crème fraîche
  • 1 large mango, peeled, stone removed, flesh diced
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • dash Tabasco sauce
  • 50g/2oz flaked almonds (toasted lightly dry frying pan)
  • green salad leaves, to serve

Rub the olive oil all over the chicken. Scatter over the lemon zest and season with the salt and black pepper.

Steam the chicken for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through, then set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the shallot and chilli and fry for five minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and cook for a further minute. Add the wine and continue to cook until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half.

Stir in the jam and stock, continue to simmer until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half. Set aside to cool.

Mix the mayonnaise and the crème fraiche in a bowl until well combined, then stir in the curry dressing. Fold in the mango, spring onions, lemon juice and coriander.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Fold this into the mayonnaise mixture. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and Tabasco to taste. Serve with a green salad, and dress with the toasted almond flakes.

Stuart Beaty

Celsium, Birmingham, UK