Adding a Southeast Asian twist to a classic favourite – coronation chicken…
Ah, coronation chicken…a retro classic once fit for royalty, has this crown jewel lost a little bit of its shine?
For non-British readers, coronation chicken in its modern form is essentially a creamy curried chicken, usually used as a sandwich filling or salad topping. It was originally a dish created for the coronation luncheon for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Originally named Poulet Reine Elizabeth, it comprised of poached chicken combined with a cream-based sauce that contained not only curry powder, but also tomato puree, wine, lemon and apricot puree. In the 1950’s, it’s not hard to see why this became popular – a touch of luxury (following post-war rationing) combined with a hint of the exotic.
However, while Her Majesty continues to rule with no signs of slowing down, sadly the reign of coronation chicken has faltered over the years.
A far cry from the original version, what we know now as coronation chicken is a pale shadow of its former self – basically chicken drowned in mayonnaise and a dash of curry powder, maybe with sultanas or raisins, and even almonds if one is feeling generous.
[As a side note, can anyone explain to me the British fascination with sultanas and curry? Thankfully we’ve come a long way from watery, jaundice-yellow curries studded with dried fruit!]
Those intervening years are a mystery – a quick search has uncovered no clues as to its evolution (or should that be devolution?). However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it were simply the product of years of simplification and dilution – the smallest common denominator that appeals just enough to the widest audience.
For me however, coronation chicken has as much to do with nostalgia as much as taste (probably more!) and in my view occupies that niche within any cuisine that borders on the kitsch or passé – foods that you secretly like, but think you probably shouldn’t…right up there with prawn cocktail, chicken kievs and chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents among countless others.
At its worst, modern versions of coronation chicken are sweet, cloying and grainy from hastily added curry powder. With this interpretation however, the attempt was to incorporate a Southeast Asian slant to the dish. It maintains the same building blocks of creamy chicken, mayo, fruit and nuts, but alongside the Indian influence I’ve upped the ante with additions of lemongrass and coconut milk for oomph.
The chicken is marinated with the spices and aromatics and pan fried or grilled – this removes the problem of raw curry powder, imparts more flavour to the actual chicken and adds those charred, crispy notes associated with great Asian street food. I did a quick test of grill (left) vs cast iron pan (right). As you can see you get better sear with the pan which also keeps it more succulent, so that’s the winner for me.
Once the chicken is cooked, it’s chopped up and mixed with the rest of the ingredients – yoghurt is added alongside the mayonnaise to lighten the mix and add a bit of tartness, and a hint more garlic and ginger for added kick. A couple of spoons of mango chutney go in for added fruity sweetness.
Recipe inspired by Felicity Cloake’s How to cook the perfect coronation chicken via the Guardian.