Coronation Chicken Salad: Fit for a Queen

| May 1, 2009 | 4 Comments
  • 4 Comments

coronation chicken saladAnd I know a lot of them. Last weekend, I was (cheerfully) roped into helping prepare and serve a “proper” English tea by an old friend who had offered up her home, her china, and her silver tea pots for the benefit of my goddaughter’s school. I have placed the word “proper” in quotation marks, because this was a tea hosted by Canadian-Americans, which means that it just might have been even more so than a true, English tea. The Canadians, after all, still celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. The English, however, have long since moved on.

Scones were baked and served with Devonshire cream, butter, and jam. Little tea cakes were made available as were a number of precious, crustless tea sandwiches: cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, and Coronation Chicken.

It was the last one that really caught my attention. I asked Mary Pat, my friend Shannon’s mother (and my former, formidable piano teacher), about it and she explained that the dish was called Coronation Chicken Salad because it was served at a luncheon in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Well, that seemed straightforward enough.

It also fit in nicely with the conversation about World War II food rationing I was having with my friend Craig and my goddaughter, Zelly, on the way to their house. Don’t ask. These things just happen. We got so involved talking about u-boats, the Battle of Britain, and how Queen Elizabeth (mother of the present queen regnant) was glad Buckingham Palace was bombed so that she could then “look the East End in the face,” that we forgot to stop for some necessary but overlooked tea supplies.

The Back Story
Coronation Chicken Salad was created by chef Rosemary Hume and the credit grabbed by one Constance Spry, a social-climbing society florist when students at her Winkfield Domestic Science School (at which Miss Hume was an instructress) were asked to cater a luncheon for the leaders of the Commonwealth Nations gathering together for the new queen’s coronation.

Yes, Winkfield. The dish was anything but new at the time; merely a rehashing of the chicken in curried mayonnaise concocted for Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V, in celebration of his Silver Jubilee. The name of the dish was, unsurprisingly, “Jubilee Chicken.” And you’ll never guess what was served in honor of Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. It’s true. Jubilee Chicken.

But we made it because we thought you loved it so much. I can just hear her mother (god rest her soul) saying that.

The recipe was published in the newspapers ahead of the coronation so that the common people might partake of what their new queen would be eating on her very special day. However, since food rationing did not end until 1954 (several months later), it is very doubtful that most of the common folk had had sufficient amounts of chicken and dairy products on hand to whip of a batch of the stuff. If they had learned anything in 14 years of food restrictions and shortages, it was to make do, to improvise. Perhaps that is why there are so many different versions of this particular salad. Individual households approximated the dish with what they had on hand.

Today’s Coronation Chicken Salad is, essentially, cold chicken in curried mayonnaise. Simple but good. The original version, however, is a much more complex organism that included a cooked-down sauce of red wine, bay leaf, and tomato purée, and an addition of apricot purée and heavy cream. Throw in some mayonnaise and curry powder and…I’ll put it this way– I get the feeling that anyone who ate it would be spending more time on the throne than Elizabeth Regina.

Coronation-ish Chicken Salad
This is not the original recipe. Given the food rationing of the time, I think it’s entirely in the spirit of the thing to improvise with ingredients one has on hand. For example, if a bottle of red wine is opened in my house, there will never be any left over for use in a chicken salad. Instead, I have added vinegar. I’ve also omitted the original call for heavy cream, and the cooking of the onions, owing to my own preference for bolder flavors and an even stronger tendency towards laziness. Feel free to add or subtract whatever ingredients you like. Except for chicken, mayonnaise, and curry powder. I don’t mind, and I don’t think Her Britannic Majesty will mind much, either. For the original recipe, please visit The Greasy Spoon, a site I stumbled upon and of which I am now rather fond.

Note: I had chosen to serve my salad clad in nothing but a crown of watercress. Upon examination of the opening photo, however, I realized that crowns are meant to be worn upon the head, not sat upon. It is a small but important error. If it bothers you, please feel free to turn the whole thing upside down and place upon your head or the head of the queen nearest you.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, poached and diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon curry powder (more or less, according to taste.)
2 tablespoons mango chutney or apricot preserves
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/4 cup currants or raisins
1 tablespoon vinegar: cider, champagne or whatever
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cashews for garnish
watercress, washed and de-stemmed, for garnish

Preparation:
1. Combine mayonnaise, curry powder, vinegar, chutney, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir well.

2. Throw in the chopped chicken breast meat, onion, celery, and currants/raisins. Stir until everything is well-coated.

3. Refrigerate overnight to let all the ingredients get to know each other a little better.

4. To serve, place on a bed of watercress and top with chopped cashews. Or slap some between two slices of bread. I will leave the decision of whether or not to discard the bread crust up to you.

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, food history and celebrities, recipes

About the Author ()

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows. You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster
  • QBranch

    Excellent recipe! Did it up for the royal wedding and it went over quite well.

    My only beef (or should that be chicken?) with your recipe is that, in spite of being included on the list of ingredients, the onion is never used in your instructions.

    Perhaps a TARDIS was involved? :D

  • http://foodforthethoughtless.com/ Michael Procopio

    Dear QBranch,

    I am delighted you enjoyed the recipe. I also want to thank you for alerting me to my error. I popped into the pay phone time machine around the corner and promptly corrected the error.

  • http://www.brianharte.co.uk/ Brian

    I had a friends mum write down her coronation chicken reciepe and i lost it :( Will definitely try this one once the weather warms up!

  • edresearcher

    Here is the original Coronation Chicken Salad recipe. The one on this blog is good when you are in a hurry. Must use Best Foods or Hellman’s mayo.

    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:

    Ingredients

    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.

    Rice salad

    The rice salad which accompanied the chicken was of rice, peas, diced raw cucumber and finely chopped mixed herbs, all mixed in a well-seasoned French dressing. For convenience in serving at the Coronation, the chicken was arranged at one end of an oblong dish and a rice salad at the other.

    ‘The Constance Spry Cookery Book’ by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume (£30, Grub St)