Ever wondered why Coronation Chicken is called Coronation Chicken? Because it was made in 1953. All of it. Every portion of this creamy, lightly curried cold buffet treat that you have ever had was made over sixty years ago. That’s why it’s gone yellow. Yes, this heavenly chicken dish was created for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The Queen wanted a special dish that could be enjoyed at the coronation luncheon alongside the usual cold cuts (haslet, spam, tongue etc) and washed down with a specially-commissioned ginger beer. What’s more, the Queen wanted this dish to be a gift to the nation in order to lift spirits in those austere, post-war times when food rationing was still in force.
The Queen’s head chef at Windsor Castle, Barry du Brûlecoq, was tasked with creating the centre piece dish for the big day. Combining cold chicken, mayonnaise and spices from the former empire, Monsieur du Brûlecoq’s creation was inspired. Heaven on a plate, in a jacket potato or in a humble sandwich (or on the end of a finger straight from the tub in the fridge – but don’t tell the wife). However, this was to be a one-off. The Queen’s gift came in the form of a super-industrial quantity manufactured over a period of five months in conditions of great secrecy. After that the recipe was destroyed. The new dish, named Coronation Chicken by Monsieur du Brûlecoq, was a great hit at the formal luncheon which was attended by dignitaries and members of royal families from all over the world. The Jamaican ambassador was heard to pronounce “Man, that was sick”. Well ahead of his time. After the big day, Coronation Chicken was released for sale to a public eager to know what it was like to eat like royalty. It was a roaring success and has never looked back.
So, if the nation’s entire stock of Coronation Chicken was made in one large batch, where has it been stored all these years? Well, virtually in plain sight in one of Britain’s notable sporting landmarks. Did you know that the famous Gasholder No. 1 next to the Oval cricket ground in London is a Grade II listed building? Why? Because it is architecturally interesting? Really?? Of course not. It is because it holds the dwindling stash of the nation’s favourite cold chicken dish. The four gasholders next to the Oval were considered the perfect storage facility back in 1953 due to the fact that a gasholder physically reduces in height as its contents diminish (less air = fresher Coronation Chicken). Now three of the Oval gasholders are empty and Gasholder No. 1 will soon be giving up the last of its golden treasure. For proof, see the photos below. Black and white photo (1953): full. Colour (2012): almost empty.
In addition to the Oval gasholders, there was one other store. The Queen used to have her own stash in a brick-lined vault under Windsor Castle. However, after the devastating fire of 1992, she became the proud owner of a large amount of chicken tikka (the brick-lined vault proving to be an ideal tandoor when heated by the fire). Now Her Majesty and Prince Phillip regularly enjoy Chicken Tikka Masala and a pint of Cobra lager on a Saturday evening while watching Britain’s Got Talent.
So for how long will we be able to enjoy Coronation Chicken? Depressingly, experts reckon it will run out in 2018 at four o’clock. I know this will come as a shock to many of you. But don’t panic! Keep calm and make Taj Mahal Chicken instead. This is a recipe I got from my sister-in-law several years ago and I reckon it goes one better than Coronation Chicken. The addition of red wine is a sophisticated touch for these post-rationing times. So, Coronation Chicken is (almost) dead – Long Live Taj Mahal Chicken.
Here’s the recipe set out in a sensible fashion without too much puerile intervention from me. This makes quite a large quantity but maybe you could store the leftovers in an old gas bottle…
TAJ MAHAL CHICKEN
1 tablespoon oil; 1 medium onion; 3 teaspoons curry powder; 1 teaspoon curry paste; 100ml red wine; juice of half a lemon; 2.5 level tablespoons apricot jam; roughly 300ml / half a pint of mayonnaise; 1 large COOKED and COOLED chicken (about 2kg / 4lbs)
Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add onion and fry gently until tender. Add curry powder and paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the wine, lemon juice and jam and cook over a brisk heat for about 3 minutes until they have reduced a bit. Leave this mixture to cool thoroughly.
Remove the meat from the chicken and cut or pull/tear (depending on your aesthetic preferences!) into chunks. Again, you choose what size chunks, there’s no law about this.
Now the original recipe says stir the curry mixture into the mayonnaise before adding the chicken. However, I found it is more sensible to add the mayonnaise to the chicken first. That way you can choose the overall mayonnaisy(?) consistency you want and you may avoid wasting some mayonnaise. Then stir in the curry mixture thoroughly. You can do this bit by bit until you have the strength of curry flavour you want. If you’re tasting as you go along, remember to use a clean finger each time. If you run out of fingers, then remove a shoe and sock. However, if it comes to that, may I suggest you’re being a bit cautious in the amount of mixture you’re adding each time.
There, all done. If you make this for a posh do (e.g. coronation, royal wedding), you could garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, lightly toasted almonds and/or some freshly chopped coriander.