Coronation Chicken, A Dish Fit for a Queen

Queen Elizabeth just met someone who helped invent the dish served at her coronation luncheon. But what is it?

February 09, 2022
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UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Elisabeth Ii (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Photo by: Keystone-France/Getty

Keystone-France/Getty

Exciting news for food-focused British-royalty watchers: Queen Elizabeth just met a woman who, as a 19-year-old culinary school student, helped perfect the now-iconic dish served at the Queen’s coronation luncheon in 1953: Coronation Chicken.

The Queen chatted with Angela Wood, now in her late 80s, at an event held in the ballroom of Sandringham House, on Saturday, February 5, the day before the 70th anniversary of her ascent to the throne following the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952.

The event, the 95-year-old monarch’s largest public appearance since October 2021, was attended by quite a few guests representing local organizations and culminated in the cutting of a cake decorated in honor of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, which will be celebrated more broadly (and with a prize-winning pudding!) in June.

The cake placement was optimized for media cameras, not for the Queen, prompting her to self-deprecatingly quip, before cutting into it, “Oh, they can see it. I don't mind. I don't matter.”

Alas, the contents of the conversation between the Queen and the woman credited with helping to invent Coronation Chicken is, at least for now, an open question.

But another question you may be asking can be answered: What is Coronation Chicken, anyway?

Also known as “Poulet Reine Elizabeth,” or chicken Queen Elizabeth, the dish is often credited to florist Constance Spry and Le Cordon Bleu London culinary school founder Rosemary Hume (with the help of her students, of which Wood was presumably one). It is believed to have been inspired by the Jubilee Chicken created to mark George V’s silver jubilee in 1935.

The dish met important criteria: It had to feed a large, diverse crowd — and be prepared in advance.

“Sir David Eccles, the Minister of Works exclusively asked Rosemary Hume and her students to undertake the luncheon for Her Majesty’s guests, who were mainly representatives of other countries,” according to a history of the dish shared by Le Cordon Bleu. “The school was honoured to be involved in such a special occasion, and served the Coronation Day banquet to three hundred and fifty people in the Great Hall of Westminster School, the largest party to have been seated there.

The original recipe is believed to have featured cold chicken in a curried cream-and-mayo dressing. In the menu from the 1953 luncheon, the dish is described as “chicken, boned and coated in curry cream sauce, with, one end of each dish, a well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and pimentos,” Le Cordon Bleu’s history notes.

Today’s iterations often feature fresh herbs and spices, sliced almonds, dried apricots or raisins and creme fraiche. And while Coronation Chicken is often now made with freshly made Indian curry paste, back in post-war Britain, when some fresh ingredients were more difficult to come by, it was made with curry powder.

“Through the carefully seasoned chicken and delicate nut-like flavours running through the sauce, it was marked as a huge success,” according to Le Cordon Bleu. “The ingredients used were remarkable for their time, with many of them only just becoming available, whilst the majority of the country was still under the restrictions of post-war rationing. The original recipe consisted of young roasting chickens, water and a little wine to cover carrot, a bouquet garni, salt, peppercorns and a cream of curry sauce.

Here’s a recipe based on Hume and Spry’s original, published in BBC History Magazine, another shared on the blog The Petite Cook and another on Food.com that is “to die for.”

And here’s Food Network U.K.’s Coronation Chicken recipe, which features a range of spices that elevate the dish to perfection.

Definitely a dish fit for a queen!

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