Ever wondered what goes into the royal tum? It is said that her majesty starts the day with toast and marmalade and a cup of Earl Grey. A frugal eater, she prefers plain English fare: roast beef, shepherd's pie, smoked haddock, bread and butter pudding. Nothing rich or spicy.
Surprisingly, then, on the day she was crowned, some 60 years ago, the young Queen Elizabeth sat down to cold chicken in a creamed curry sauce.
Coronation chicken is usually attributed to society florist and cook Constance Spry, who was all the rage at the time. While Spry did the flowers for the coronation, the dish was in fact created for the occasion by her friend Rosemary Hume, founder of Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in London.
Hume also taught at Spry's school of domestic science, where students were asked to cater for the 300-odd dignitaries invited to the official lunch on the big day.
The dish was not exactly new; an earlier version had been concocted for Elizabeth's grandfather, George V, to celebrate his Silver Jubilee.
Hume's recipe was published in newspapers ahead of time so the queen's subjects could partake of the same meal. In post-war Britain rationing still applied and chicken and dairy products were luxuries. Perhaps the "common people", after so many years of food restrictions and shortages, made do with what they had to hand.
Describing it as "Britain's first TV dinner", a social historian says Hume knew anyone with access to a television set would be glued to it all day.
To be a success, therefore, her dish had to be one that could be prepared in advance and eaten with a fork. I have adapted today's recipe from The Constance Spry Cookery Book, written by Spry and Hume and first published in 1956.
Serve with a rice salad; this one is pretty close to the original.
CORONATION CHICKEN (serves 8)
Poached chicken ingredients
2 small fresh chickens
1 carrot, chopped
half stick celery, chopped
1 bouquet garni
300ml white wine
Method: Put chickens in a casserole with remaining ingredients and enough water to just cover.
Bring to the boil.
Reduce to a gentle simmer, cover and poach for 40 minutes.
Leave to cool in the liquid for at least 2 hours then drain and set aside.
Curry sauce ingredients
1 Tbsp sunflower oil
half small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp mild curry powder
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 slices lemon, plus squeeze of lemon juice
300g homemade or good mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp apricot jam
50ml cream, lightly whipped
Method: Heat oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and cook gently for 3-4 minutes.
Add curry powder and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add tomato puree, wine, water and bay leaf.
Bring to the boil, add salt, pepper, sugar, lemon slices and juice.
Simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes, strain and leave to cool; remove lemon slices.
Add curry mix to the mayonnaise, a little at a time, then add apricot jam to taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in 2-3 Tbsp of the whipped cream.
Take half the sauce and mix with remaining whipped cream.
Remove meat from chickens and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Mix chicken with the creamier half of the curry sauce.
Arrange on a serving dish and coat with remaining sauce.
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
250g cooked long grain rice
200g cooked baby peas
half a cucumber, peeled and diced
2 handfuls chopped parsley
Method: Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard and salt.
Tip rice and peas into a bowl, add cucumber, parsley and dressing and stir to combine.
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