Coronation Chicken

Coronation Chicken

The date: 2nd June 1953

Britain was celebrating the Queen’s Coronation. For the first time, people were able to watch the Coronation at home, in front of their television sets.  The typical English weather joined in on the celebrations by delivering bucketfuls of rain. But it wasn’t enough to stop people from celebrating.  Thousands had parties in their own little towns and villages across the country. Television sales rocketed through the roof, as everyone wanted to see the Coronation from the comfort of their homes. But many thousands of loyal subjects patiently waited outside the Palace and along the streets of London, waiting to catch a quick glimpse of the Queen in her royal carriage as it went to the Palace and then to see her give the traditional wave from the balcony of the Palace.

As the celebrations were underway across the country, the talented Chef Rosemary Hume who had been personally selected by Sir David Eccles for this position, was frantically working in the kitchens with her team of student chefs, putting together the two royal banquets that were to be held that day. As Britain was still recovering from the aftermaths of the World Wars, resources were limited. Whilst the choice of ingredients available to create these royal banquets may have been limited, there was still immense pressure on the Chefs to create a menu that in its lavishness befitted the Queen’s coronation.

The menu for the First Coronation Banquet, included some classic dishes – Tortue Claire Sandringham (a clear Turtle soup), Delices de Soles Prince Charles (Sole Fillets) and Maids of Honour. The menu for the Second Coronation Banquet, included the famous Coronation Chicken, which was served to nearly 350 people at the Great Hall of Westminster School. It was the first time such a large number of people were catered for at the location and it had created a little conundrum for the Chefs, as it had very limited cooking facilities available to enable the chefs to serve anything that was beyond simple cooking. Under normal circumstances, anything beyond coffee, tea and snacks would have have been very challenging. Hence, the creation of some innovative yet simple recipes was undertaken.

A banquet is probably the most fatiguing thing in the world except ditch digging. It is the insanest of all recreations. The inventor of it overlooked no detail that could furnish weariness, distress, harassment, and acute and long-sustained misery of mind and body.” –  Mark Twain

Rosemary Hume created the Poulet Reine Elizabeth, also referred to by many as the Bôite de Fraises Reine Elizabeth, which later came to be known as the famous Coronation chicken.  It was described by Le Cordon Bleu, London as, “…chicken, boned and coated in curry cream sauce, with, one end of each dish, a well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and pimentos.”  It had indeed been challenging to create a dish that would be enjoyed by such a large number of guests, very important guests at that, considering it was served cold. A lot of preparations went into creating the perfect chicken that was delicately spiced with a little nutty flavour and full of creamy decadence adding a layer of lavishness to suit the occasion. Le Cordon Bleu, where Rosemary Hume had trained to become a chef, detail that, “the ingredients used were remarkable for their time, with many of them only just becoming available, whilst the majority of the country was still under the restrictions of post-war rationing. The original recipe consisted of young roasting chickens, water and a little wine to cover carrot, a bouquet garni, salt, peppercorns and a cream of curry sauce.” It was the first time a curry flavour was used at a Coronation Banquet.

The original recipe, is detailed in the Constance Spry Cookery Book (1967) by Rosemary Hume and Constance Spry. 

I wasn’t around to have experienced the traditional Coronation chicken, but it is still very popular and enjoyed by many across England at lunch time. A long time ago when I worked in Richmond-upon-Thames, a short walk from the river, it was the perfect sandwich to pick up from Marks & Spencers along with an Appletiser. The river walk in Richmond is usually packed with tourists in the summer, and pitchers of Pimms come to mind when I think about those summers. Sitting under a tree, with either a Coronation chicken sandwich or a Prawn Cocktail Sandwich (my two favourites), trying to ignore the loud tourists and reading a juicy novel at lunch time was one of my favourite things to do. But then I made friends and the book disappeared, only to be replaced by a pitcher of Pimms that we happily shared with our respective sandwiches.

Coronation Chicken
Coronation Chicken

Now that I am in Alberta, and there are no Marks and Spencers, I have been trying to recreate the same flavour that takes me back in time. After all, there are times when we all like to reminisce about our past and mine starts with this. The version that I have finally settled on, is not the traditional version, but is my own twist on the traditional Coronation Chicken. After all, I must now make new memories with the new sandwich.

The crunchy walnuts, the sweet juicy grapes, the fresh aromatic herbs, the spicy creamy sauce that encompasses the chicken makes this traditional Sandwich filling one of my all time favourites.

Whether wrapped up in a tortilla with some crunchy lettuce and julienned celery, or between two crisp slices of buttered toast, this sandwich has the instant ‘wow’ factor. Brown bread or white bread? Both are delicious with this versatile filling. In fact, I even enjoyed some with leftover Basmati Rice. I didn’t think it would work, but it surprisingly did.

Coronation Chicken
Coronation Chicken

2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup red onions, finely chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh Coriander/Cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp Curry Powder
1 tsp Garlic powder
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (adjust if you don’t like it too spicy)
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 tbsp heavy whipping cream (believe me, its worth it!)
A little squirt of Sriracha sauce (completely optional, its only to make it spicier)
1 cup dark grapes, halved
2 tbsp olive

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, drizzle a little oil and wrap it in foil to make a little parcel that can be baked in the oven. Preheat oven to 400F and bake the chicken in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through. Remove from the foil packet and allow the chicken to cool to room temperature. The reason I bake the chicken wrapped in foil is to make sure the chicken doesn’t get crispy when roasted or baked. I like the chicken to be soft, juicy and succulent instead of dry and crispy.

In a small pan, heat some oil and saute the onions until they have softened a little, but not brown them. Remove them from heat and let them cool down on some kitchen paper, which also helps to drain out any excess oil from the onions, until ready to use.

Taking a large mixing bowl, Combine the spices and the mayonnaise, yogurt and cream really well. Combine all the ingredients except for the grapes and the walnuts which are to be added in the end, just before serving.

This Sandwich filling can be made a day in advance and just before serving, add the walnuts and the fresh grapes. I ate mine with a bowl of rice, for a change and it was surprisingly delicious!


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