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A Recipe Fit for the Queen
Posted by James McIntosh Monday, 14th September 2015
Food history fascinates me. I believe that food, and cookery books for that matter, are historical narratives of a people in a place, at a time. They tell us so much about current social and economic factors, the availability of ingredients and wealth. In fact, food is the story of a people, on a plate. And one very special recipe that we may all take for granted is ‘Polet Reine Elizabeth’, also known by the common name of ‘Coronation Chicken’.
Constance Spry, an English food writer and flower arranger, together with Rosemary Hume, a chef, who were both principals of the Cordon Bleu cookery school in London are both credited with the invention of Coronation Chicken. The recipe may have been inspired by ‘Jubilee Chicken’, a dish prepared for the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935. This was modified again in 2002 for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, with a new recipe called ‘Jubilee Chicken’ by Heston Blumenthal.
Not only did Constance have to worry about the stress of cooking for a young Queen on her Coronation day, she also had to look at the state of the country at that time. In response she created a deliberate and tactful compromise between the luxurious (due to the use of curry-powder) and the thrifty (as the country was still under post-war rationing). Chickens are simply poached, a complex sauce is made (a far cry from today’s version with just mayonnaise, curry powder and raisins), which is used to “coat the chicken lightly”.
The original recipe, as below, is somewhat different to what we know from sandwiches today and indeed that which many would make at home, as it does not contain raisins. I regularly make my own variant of Coronation Chicken, with the addition of mango chutney, using up any bits of leftover chicken after a roast. I just let the chicken cool down, mix up mayonnaise, curry powder and a dollop of mango chutney and place into an air tight container in the fridge and use in sandwiches or as an accompaniment to salads.
Poulet Reine Elizabeth
An extract from ‘The Constance Spry Cookery Book’ by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
Published by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1956
The most exciting party was one given on Coronation Day, for which preparations were shared by the students and staff of the Cordon Bleu School in London and Winfield. This was a luncheon for the representatives of other countries invited by Her Majesty to be present in Westminster Abbey on the occasion of her coronation. It was held in the Great Hall of Westminster School. Sir David Eccles, the Minister of Works, paid us the unexpected compliment of asking us to undertake the luncheon, and then added ‘and to serve it also”. Although we were simmering with excitement, Rosemary Hume and I let days go by before we allowed ourselves to make real plans, feeling that perhaps Sir David, remembering the youthfulness of our students, might modify his ideas about what we could accomplish. But nothing so discouraging happened.
Once the plan was firmly established we concerned ourselves exclusively with our problems, which in brief were these. The luncheon was for about three hundred and fifty people, the largest party to be seated in the Great Hall, the rest in a house some distance away. By two o’clock the guests would be very hungry and probably cold. There would be people of many nationalities, some of whom would eat no meat. Kitchen accommodation was too small to serve hot food beyond soup and coffee. The serving of the food would have to be simple because all of the waitresses would be amateurs.
The menu chosen was as follows:
Potage de Tomates á l’Estragon
Truite de Rivière en Gelée, Sauce Verte
Poulet Reine Elizabeth
Cornets de Jambon Lucullus
Cherry and Walnut Salad
Galette aux Fraises
Mousse au Citron
Coffe, Petits Fours
Moselle Brauneberger ‘43
Champagne Krug ‘45
For 6-8 people
- 2 young roasting chickens
- water and a little wine to cover
- a bouquet garni
- 3-4 peppercorns
- cream of curry sauce
- rice salad
- Poach the chickens, carrot, bouquet, salt and peppercorns in water and a little wine, enough barely to cover, for about 40 minutes or until tender.
- Allow to cool in the liquid.
- Joint the birds, remove the bones with care.
- Prepare the sauce given below.
- Mix the chicken and the sauce together, arrange on a dish, coat with the extra sauce.
(For convenience in serving on the occasion mentioned, the chicken was arranged at one end of an oblong dish, and a rice salad as given below was arranged at the other).
Cream of curry sauce
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 oz onion, finely chopped
- 1 dessertspoon curry-powder
- 1 good teaspoon tomato purée
- 1 wineglass red wine
- 3/4 wineglass water
- a bay leaf
- salt, sugar, a touch of pepper
- a slice or tow of lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice, possibly more
- 1-2 tablespoons apricot purée
- 3/4 pint mayonnaise
- 2-3 tablespoons lightly whipped cream
- a little extra whipped cream
- Heat the oil, add onion, cook gently 3-4 minutes, add curry-powder.
- Cook again 1-2 minutes.
- Add purée, wine, water and bay-leaf.
- Bring to boil, add salt, sugar to taste, pepper, and the lemon and lemon juice.
- Simmer with the pan uncovered 5-10 minutes.
- Strain and cool.
- Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the apricot purée to taste.
- Adjust seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary.
- Finish with the whipped cream.
- Take a small amount of sauce (enough to coat the chicken) and mix with a little extra cream and seasoning.
This is an admirable sauce to serve with iced lobster.
The rice salad which accompanied the chicken was of carefully cooked rice, cooked peas, diced raw cucumber, and finely chopped mixed herbs, all mixed in a well-seasoned French dressing.