By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
No matter how you feel about King Charles III and Queen Camilla’s recently revealed signature quiche, it seems unlikely to eclipse the most famous coronation dish of all — coronation chicken.
Created for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the posh, delicately flavored chicken has, like Britain itself, changed a bit since. What was originally an aristocratic paragon of classic French technique has been democratized into a weeknight-easy chicken salad. Though enormously popular in Britain as a sandwich filling and baked-potato topper, this ocher-tinted, raisin-studded dish would be unrecognizable to any of the 350 dignitaries who partook of its regal ancestor.
The original, developed at the Cordon Bleu culinary school in London, was called “poulet Reine Elizabeth.” A dish of cold poached chicken in a rose-hued sauce made from red wine, mayonnaise, whipped cream, apricot purée and a faint whiff of curry powder, it was served alongside a pea-studded rice salad at a coronation banquet to the queen’s honored guests (but not likely to the queen herself).
Sejal Sukhadwala, a London-based food writer and author of “The Philosophy of Curry,” describes that dish as shaped by French cuisine with a nod toward colonial India, and based on the jubilee chicken created in 1935 for George V, who, like his grandmother Queen Victoria, had a penchant for curries.
“The curry powder in coronation chicken was probably an acknowledgment of the influence of the empire and a tribute to the two previous curry-loving monarchs,” Sukhadwala wrote in an email.
Over the years, the recipe has become something more accessible to British home cooks. Out went the red wine reduction, whipped cream, homemade mayonnaise and apricot purée; in came jarred mayonnaise, golden raisins, sliced almonds and mango chutney, pantry staples you could quickly stir together in one bowl. And what was once a pinch of curry powder grew to several tablespoons, staining the mix a vivid — some say lurid — yellow.
By the 1980s, coronation chicken salad had become ubiquitous in Britain, found in ready-made sandwiches at Marks & Spencer and on backyard party menus alike.
This steep ascent was fueled by what British food writer Gurdeep Loyal, author of “Mother Tongue: Flavours of a Second Generation,” calls a revival of Raj nostalgia that set in with Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister.
Coronation chicken “wants to evoke the peacocks and rubies, the grandeur and spice of regal Indian dynasties, without actually delivering any strong flavors,” Loyal said.
Yet he’s a fan. His version, which uses a complex Punjabi masala with black and green cardamom, ajwain, fennel and tamarind, alludes to the beloved 1980s version of his childhood while celebrating Loyal’s identity as a second-generation British Indian.
“I’m un-diluting its Indianness,” he said.
Still, the 1980s version is delightful, and a snap to make.
The key is to choose your ingredients carefully. Start with cooked chicken that already has loads of flavor, whether you’re poaching it yourself or buying a rotisserie bird from the store. Find a mango chutney brand that’s complex and not too sweet. Use a good, tangy mayonnaise, ideally homemade. And — if you can find it — stir in curry paste from a jar instead of curry powder, which, depending on the brand, can have a raw, acrid undertone.
The result is a dish for the people that’s fit for a king. Which you might be hard-pressed to say about quiche.
Coronation Chicken Salad
By Melissa Clark
Coronation chicken salad is an easy, pantry-friendly dish, loosely based on a posh, classically French chicken recipe that was created to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. This is the recipe you’d find during its heyday in Britain in the 1980s: a curried chicken salad loaded with dried fruit, mango chutney and sliced almonds, usually served as a sandwich filling or on top of baked potatoes. Debates rage over whether to include diced apricots or golden raisins (also called sultanas), but since each works well with the other flavors, you can use whichever you like. If you want a more intensely golden color, stir in 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric with the curry. And if you’re starting with leftover cooked chicken or a rotisserie chicken (you’ll need 6 cups), just skip Step 1.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
For the Chicken:
- 3 1/2 to 4 pounds bone-in chicken parts (all breasts or a combination of parts)
- 1 tablespoon fine sea or table salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 onion
- 1 cinnamon stick
For the Salad:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche
- 3 tablespoons mango chutney (any large mango pieces chopped smaller), plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon curry paste or powder (such as Madras), plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup diced dried apricots or golden raisins
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice, more to taste
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems, or scallions
- Fine sea or table salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Prepare the chicken: In a large saucepan or soup pot, combine the chicken, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, onion and cinnamon stick. Add enough water to cover everything by 1 inch, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Let simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let chicken cool in the broth.
2. Transfer cooled chicken to a cutting board, reserving the broth for another use. Pull the meat off the bones, discarding skin, and shred or dice the meat into bite-size pieces.
3. Assemble the salad: In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, chutney, curry paste or powder, dried apricots or raisins, and lemon or lime juice, mixing well. Fold in the chicken, almonds, cilantro or scallion, and a little more mayonnaise if the mixture seems dry.
4. Taste and add more curry paste or powder. (You may end up doubling the amount; the flavors of curry pastes and powders vary widely.) Add more chutney, lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper as needed. For the best flavor, let the mixture rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. It will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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