The June anniversary of the Queen’s coronation brings to mind a famous recipe.
Lunching with friends on the patio of their charming stone farmhouse in the south of France a couple of years ago, was a very pleasant experience. Our host was one of my oldest friends and I hadn’t seen him for a while, so it was a double pleasure to be staying with him and his partner, and to see him looking well again after some health setbacks. Coincidentally, other friends from Canada have a holiday condo in a village not far away and were invited for the meal as well. After a refreshing swim, it was a mellow crowd that sat, under a sweet scented wysteria covered arbour, to devour tasty coronation chicken and bottles of good local wine.
The famous chicken dish served at the Queen’s coronation lunch is usually attributed to Constance Spry. Popular lore has it that Spry based the recipe on its similarly rich and spicy royal relation, jubilee chicken, prepared for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935, which mixed the chicken in mayonnaise and curry. However, it was her partner who was actually behind coronation chicken, the recipe for which went on to appear in the first edition, in 1956, of The Constance Spry Cookery Book and is indeed still to be found in the modern edition.
In 1946, Spry opened a domestic science school with her friend, the accomplished cook Rosemary Hume, at Winkfield Place, at Cranbourne in Winkfield, Berkshire. In 1953, Spry, who was much more famous for her flowers than food, was commissioned to arrange the flowers at Westminster Abbey and along the processional route from Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The Winkfield students were asked to cater a lunch for foreign delegates for whom Hume invented a new dish – Coronation chicken.
The cookbook on which the two collaborated is still a kitchen staple 60 years on and has been brought up to date with metric measurements.
While writing this article, I had to drop down to Toronto’s Distillery District for some business and on the way back to my car walked past the Brick Street Bakery, where I have often snacked on their outstanding Boxing Day sandwich (served all year round and perfect for any occasion when you need a turkey and cranberry pick up). Top of the menu was coronation chicken, which I bought and devoured in the sunshine, instead of my plans for turkey. Truly a taste worth making the trip for.
Construction continues on the patio behind our townhouse in Toronto’s Annex. The arbour is complete, an interesting trellis repaired and painted and now we are waiting for the workmen to finish the interlocking paving that will complete a splendid new outdoor room. As soon as it is ready, we will have a small lunch party and I will serve coronation chicken. And we will raise a glass to old friends.
Authors: Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
- 4 (about 1 kg/2.2 lb) skinned and boned cooked chicken breasts (chicken pieces or whole cooked chicken)
- 1 small finely chopped onion
- vegetable oil
- 50 ml red wine
- 1 tbsp yellow curry paste
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon squeezed)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 canned apricot halves
- 1 tbsp apricot jam
- 150 ml (2/3 cup) mayonnaise
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) whipping cream
- Salt and pepper
- Boston lettuce
- Watercress to garnish
- Remove the skin and any bones from the chicken and cut into small pieces.
- In a small saucepan, heat about 1 tbsp vegetable oil, add the finely chopped onion and cook on a low heat until the onion softens, about 3 minutes.
- Add the wine, curry paste, tomato paste, lemon juice and bay leaf, mix well and simmer on very low heat for about 10 minutes until reduced. Set aside to cool.
- In a blender, puree the apricot halves with the jam, remove the bay leaf from the curry sauce and blend in until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the mixture to the mayonnaise in a bowl and stir until consistent.
- In a separate small bowl, whip the cream until it is stiff and fold it into the mixture.
- Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper, and a little more lemon juice, as needed. The objective is a taste that is tart and tangy with a hint of sweetness and a curry kick at the finish.
- Fold in the chicken and coat well.
- Plate on a bed of Boston lettuce and garnish with watercress.
Serve with additional salad ingredients, such as tabbouleh (bulgur, parsley, mint and tomato salad) or a cold potato, rice or pasta salad.
Can also be used as a delicious sandwich filling.
Categories: Market to Table