Coronation Chicken has got a bad reputation. It’s a mad dish, totally bonkers. It elicits extreme reactions: memories of buffet lunches in village halls. It’s a dish which makes no sense – but, my goodness, get it right and it’s absolutely delicious.
As its name suggests, Coronation Chicken came into existence in 1953 – the first ‘TV supper’ for a still-rationed British public to enjoy while watching Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. It mightn’t seem like the most regal of dishes, but it was originally smartened up with the title ‘Poulet Reine Elizabeth’ – and what few people know is that the dish it had its roots in the lesser-known Jubilee Chicken, another curried-mayonnaise creation to honour George V in 1935.
Coronation Chicken was developed by Rosemary Hume, a teacher at Le Cordon Bleu. Unusually, the cookery school was asked to cater for the Coronation Day Banquet. With 350 dignitaries from round the world celebrating in the Great Hall of Westminster School, the meal needed to cater for a wide range of tastes and preferences – and Coronation Chicken was deemed a triumph!
Time hasn’t been kind to the recipe. As more emphasis is put on ‘authenticity’, Coronation Chicken very much stands out as a snapshot in time, a glimpse into Anglo-Indian cuisine of the mid-‘50s. It is a recipe of convenience – designed to be made in advance and eaten with just a fork. If none of that bothers you (it certainly doesn’t bother me) and you can enjoy it for what it is, then I urge you to fall back in love with this buffet/picnic classic.
Most recipes call for ‘curry powder’ (which is a vaguely-titled ingredient, as each contains different ingredients and are of different strengths). We use our ‘Daal Blend’ which works brilliantly for two reasons. Firstly, the amount of turmeric, which imparts the signature yellow hue – but particularly for the amchur (ground mango powder) which has a sweet-sharp note that works well with the dried apricots. It’s not a hot blend, and particularly when tempered by the yoghurt is a child-friendly version. If you crave something a bit spicier then I suggest the addition of fresh, sliced red chillies.