Coronation Chicken

Apparently crowning a new regent is a big deal. So much so that an entirely new dish was invented for such a to-do. Who was this monarch and what was this dish? We’ll get to that in a minute. What might such a dish entail? Would the unwashed masses even have access to the ingredients, assuredly exotic and expensive or nigh on impossible to find. Would we, the sullied and impoverished serfs, even be able to recreate such a dish, given our consumer grade cooking appliances and obvious lack of professional culinary training? Would our diminutive social status prevent us from at least eating like royalty for a day?

Obviously not. Queen Elizabeth was the monarch and Coronation Chicken is the dish. It may sound regal, but it’s just a cold chicken salad. A mouthwatering, delectable, easy to make cold chicken salad albeit.

Because the Queen isn’t just the royal leader in England, but also the Head of the Commonwealth in India among other less populace nations, this dish has a decidedly Indian flavor. Hot curry paste with other more, and less, traditional ingredients gives the dressing just the right amount of fusion without overwhelming the other more subtle flavors. As for the “less” traditional ingredients, the dressing uses whipped cream which can separate over time and cause the salad to weep. Plan to serve quite a few people to keep the leftovers to a minimum which will hold well for a day or two.

As for the dressing… Well, let’s just say there’s a lot of it. Don’t be put off by what can only be described as a biblical amount of dressing. Upon first making this dish, you might think you should only use half the dressing that you make. But here’s the thing: you cook an entire chicken, and use all the meat. You don’t shred this chicken; you cut it into bite-sized chunks. Most of us think chicken salad belongs on a sandwich, and you could eat this chicken between two slabs of bread, but it’d be messy.

Traditionally this salad is eaten on a digestive cracker. It’s also known as a sweet-meal cracker and more or less resembles what we Americans know as graham crackers, although I wouldn’t substitute the digestive for grahams unless you absolutely cannot find a digestive cracker in your area. Carr’s makes a Whole Wheat Cracker that is sweet and can be found in nearly any supermarket here in the “colonies.” Topped with a sprig of watercress or a nasturtium leaf or blossom, this salad makes the perfect lunch. The cracker-topped method can be a bit messy, so you might want to serve the chicken salad in a bowl garnished with the greenery with the digestives on the side.

However you decide to eat this succulent salad, you won’t be disappointed with the flavor.

Coronation Chicken

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 2 hours. Cooling time: several hours or overnight.

The Chicken

  • 1 whole roasting chicken, 6-7 pounds
  • 2 carrots, washed and cut into 4-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3-4 celery ribs, with leaves, cut into pieces
  • 4 sprigs whole parsley
  • kosher salt & black pepper

Early in the day, or the day before, rinse the chicken cavity and skin to remove any debris and organ pieces. Pat dry with a paper towel and season the inside and skin of the chicken well. Heat a large, heavy dutch oven over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Place the chicken in the pot, breast side down and fry until the skin begins to turn brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and fry it, back side down, for another 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and onion around the chicken so they touch the bottom of the pan. Arrange the parsley sprigs around the chicken and inside the cavity. Cover the chicken with filtered cold water until it’s completely submerged. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, cover and simmer the chicken for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing.

The Curry Sauce

  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice,
  • 1/2 c. red wine
  • 2 T. apricot preserves,
  • 2 T. hot curry paste
  • 1 T. tomato paste,
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 11/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c. whipping cream 

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and onion until the onion is soft, but not caramelized. Add the rest of the ingredients MINUS the mayonnaise and whipped cream. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes until the preserves have melted and all the ingredients are fragrant. Remove the sauce from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer. You may need to stir the ingredients a bit, but don’t force them through the strainer. Allow the sauce to come to room temperature and then refrigerate.

After the chicken has completely simmered, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool enough to handle. Using a clean pair of rubber dish gloves will allow you to handle the chicken while it’s still quite hot. Remove all the skin, bones, gristle and connective tissue from the chicken meat. Cut the chicken meat, light and dark, into 1-inch pieces and allow to cool. Refrigerate the chicken once it has cooled to room temperature. Strain the cooking broth and reserve for another use.

Just before you are ready to eat, beat the whipping cream to stiff peaks in a mixing bowl. In another large bowl, add the mayonnaise, cooled curry sauce and whipped cream and stir gently to combine. Add the chicken pieces and gently combine. Serve over crackers or in a bowl with crackers as a side. Top with watercress or nasturtium leaves or blossoms.