Last weekend, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne. When she was crowned (she became Queen when her father died in 1952, but the coronation was June 5, 1953), Britain was still recovering from the wartime devastation, and rationing was still in effect for many foods. But it was, of course, necessary to create and elegant meal to serve to the guests of Her Majesty.
Coronation Chicken, as Poulet Reine Elizabeth became known, was created as a balance between necessary thrift and needed elegance. It was, originally, a cold poached chicken dish with a curried mayonnaise sauce. I have been doing research about the origins of Coronation Chicken and found that there is some dispute.
It is credited to Constance Spry, a famous English florist, but now thought to have been the creation of her partner chef Rosemary Hume (which seems more likely). But then, there was a dish of chicken in curry sauce served at the jubilee celebrations of George V in 1935. I even read that the idea was thought perfect for Britons to create at home to eat in front of the television watching the coronation.
But truthfully, I didn’t find the story as interesting as the dish. From its royal beginnings, Coronation Chicken has become a staple of the British menu, though it devolved over the years to a rather sorry sandwich filling. You’ll find this flaccid, flavorless version in café and sandwich bars across the country. Some more upscale chains do a pretty decent version, but its reputation has definitely suffered (I have even seen it as a sandwich filling from a shelf-stable jar). In my travels, I have encountered some truly awful versions. But many Britons make Coronation Chicken at home, and an English food magazine recently created a Twitter thread asking readers about the best way to make Coronation Chicken. The answers were so varied, it shows that this is truly a dish that has been taken to heart and transformed to family tastes.
I have made a curried chicken salad as long as I have made chicken salad. And at some point in my experiences in England, I began to call it Coronation Chicken Salad. It is one of my favorite versions, punchy with lots of flavor and texture. And it is what the dish set out to be, elegant but thrifty, and fit for a queen.
Coronation Chicken Salad
Serves 6 – 8
Poaching the chicken in wine adds a regal touch, but use half water, or all water if that’s all you have.
4 chicken breast halves
White wine, or enough water, to cover the chicken
1/2cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3 green onions,finely diced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Major Grey’s chutney
1 tablespoon mild yellow curry powder
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the chicken breasts in a large, deep skillet and cover with the wine or water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot tightly and leave too cool. This will cook the chicken slowly, making it nice and tender. Check that the chicken is cooked through, to 165 degrees F. in the center.
Meanwhile, put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. When the raisins are plumped up, drain and set aside.
When the chicken is cool, drain it and pat it dry. Pull the chicken into bite sized pieces using two forks or your fingers. I prefer this chicken salad chunky, but it is up to you. Toss the chicken with the raisins, almonds, apricots and green onions in a large bowl.
For the dressing, place the yogurt, chutney, curry powder, cilantro leaves and garam masala in a blender and blend until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the blender as necessary. Pour the dressing over the chicken and stir to coat thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for several days.
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