King Charles’s coronation is just around the corner, scheduled for May 6, 2023. Given that the last coronation—for Queen Elizabeth II—was on June 2, 1953, this is a momentous occasion indeed! And in light of the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth, Brits and anglophiles worldwide are searching for a way to honor her this spring.
We all know food is a labor of love, but Americans may be surprised to discover that one particular dish was invented just for Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Aptly called “Coronation Chicken,” this dish is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon watching the traditional ceremony.
What Is Coronation Chicken?
Coronation Chicken, or “Poulet Reine Elizabeth” (translated literally as “Queen Elizabeth’s Chicken”), is a chicken salad with a curry-cream sauce. It utilizes numerous ingredients, such as curry, wine and apricots, that were considered extravagant at the time, given that the UK still implemented wartime rations. As such, it is inherently a celebratory meal for special occasions, developed specifically for the Queen and her 350 esteemed guests. It was served as the centerpiece of her coronation banquet, held at the Great Hall of Westminster School.
Who Came Up with Coronation Chicken?
The then-Minister of Works, Sir David Eccles, commissioned the dish from the culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu London, just 20 years old at the time. In the words of the school’s current principal, Ms. Gray: “It was unique for a culinary institution to be selected to cater for such a prestigious occasion and reflects the high regard for Le Cordon Bleu London over sixty years ago. Further invitations to cook for royalty came from the success of this event.”
At Le Cordon Bleu London, both instructors and students rose to the occasion. The school’s founder, Rosemary Hume, collaborated with Constance Spry, a famous florist and founder of the Winkfield Cookery School, to develop the recipe. Then, all the students at Le Cordon Bleu London helped perfect the recipe and prepared it for a flawless 2 p.m. serving.
How to Make Coronation Chicken
The recipe has been widely adapted over the years, but you can’t beat the original. Here, we’ve interpreted the BBC’s replication, listing ingredient amounts in imperial measurements for our American audience.
The original recipe calls for “roasting chickens” (much like Cornish game hens), which we’ve replaced with one small chicken, for accessibility. If you don’t want to mess with a whole chicken, you can use also chicken breasts.
Similarly, the original recipe calls for curry powder, but given the advancement in preservation technology, we believe curry paste most closely follows the spirit of the recipe.
For the chicken
- 1 carrot
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 (2 1/2-pound) whole chicken
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 4 to 6 sprigs of parsley
- 2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
For the sauce
- 4 dried apricots
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 tablespoon minced onion
- 1/2 tablespoon curry paste, or to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon tomato puree
- 4 tablespoons red wine
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 slice of lemon
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 to 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
This recipe takes two major steps: roasting the chicken and making the salad. If you’d like to save time, feel free to roast the chicken ahead of time.
To make the chicken:
- Dice the carrot and melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the carrot and saute until softened, about five minutes.
- Add the chicken, salt, peppercorns, parsley, thyme and bay leaf to the softened carrot. Pour in six cups of water.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Let the chicken cool in the poaching liquid, then dice it into bite-size cubes. Save the bones to make a stock, if desired.
To make the salad:
- Soak the dried apricots in hot water for 30 minutes until soft. Then, drain off the water and finely mince the apricots.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Then, saute the minced onion until softened. Slight browning is okay.
- Add the curry paste, tomato puree, wine, water, bay leaf, lemon juice and lemon slice. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes or until reduced.
- Strain the sauce and let it cool. Then, mix in the mayonnaise, whipping cream and minced apricots.
- Fold in the cubed chicken, then salt and pepper to taste.
How to Serve Coronation Chicken
At Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the chicken was served with a “well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and pimentos,” according to Le Cordon Bleu. For authenticity, feel free to recreate the full meal yourself. However, coronation chicken is also delicious served on nice bread as a chicken salad sandwich, or alongside a Yorkshire pudding and roast vegetables. If you want to go all out, why not try a first course of split pea soup and a dessert of spotted dick? The new king will surely approve.