Poached chicken in creamy curry sauce. Angela Wood proudly recalls the recipe for “coronation chicken“, created for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953which became a classic of British cuisine and which she helped create.
It can now be found in supermarkets as a ready meal or filling for sandwiches. or in numerous variations in cookbooks, become an integral part of British culinary culture.
“But it’s not the same recipe … it’s just mayonnaise with a little curry added,” jokes Angela Wood, 89, as she greets AFP at her home in Kimbolton, in the verdant countryside of southeastern England.
She was only 19 years old when, as a student at the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school in Winkfield, she was tasked with refining the recipe devised by the center’s director, Constance Spry, who was to organize the banquet for foreign dignitaries after the coronation of the 2 June 1953.
Elizabeth II came to the throne on February 6, 1952, on the death of her father, King George VI, but was not crowned until more than a year later.
To please everyone, the dish “had to be a little spicy, but not too spicy,” Wood recalls. It also had to be prepared in advance, so it had to be served cold.
And the ingredients had to be readily available in the UK, where imported food was then limited — even for a royal banquet — when World War II rationing had not yet been fully lifted.
Wood got down to business, experimenting “two or three times a week, for three or four weeks.” “We cooked chickens endlessly,” adding or subtracting ingredients, she recalls.
Until they found the right balance, explains the octogenarian, showing the original recipe, published in an old edition of the “Constance Spry Cookery Book”, a renowned English cookery book.
The chicken is boiled accompanied by aromatic herbs. The sauce consists of a reduction of minced onion, curry spices, tomato puree, red wine and lemon juice, added to mayonnaise and lightly whipped cream, with apricot puree. “It’s a strange mixture” that, tasted in the early stages of its preparation, is “strong and horrible”, he laughs. “It is difficult to think that it has gone well,” she ironizes.
He is often asked why he didn’t use mango, as in many current recipes. “Well, we didn’t have mangoes then, (…), Greek yogurt and things like that,” she says. Instead, “Nowadays people add all kinds of ingredients,” she adds.
In the menu of the time, written in French, the dish was called “Queen Elizabeth’s chicken”.
Served to 350 foreign dignitaries accompanied by a rice salad with peas and herbs, it was preceded by tomato tarragon soup and river trout and followed by a strawberry galette. All washed down with French wine and champagne.
The vagaries of life did not allow Wood to dedicate himself to cooking professionally and instead he managed the family farm since he married, but he still sometimes prepares the famous recipe with his daughter when they have guests.
However, she says she feels “honored” to have helped create this classic British dish, which earned her a reception with the monarch, in February this year, at the royal estate in Sandringham to mark her 70 years on the throne, with canapés of “coronation chicken”.
On the occasion of the platinum jubilee, which will be celebrated for four days in early June, the British were invited to participate in a contest to design a dessert for the queen, the winner of which was announced on television on Thursday: Jemma Melvin with her trifle -dessert that superimposes layers of different textures and colors in a glass container- based on Italian amaretto cookies and lemon gypsy arm (a type of roll).
The coronation chicken “has stood the test of time and I hope so” with the dessert, says Wood, because Elizabeth II has had “the most incredible reign” and “has dedicated her whole life to the country”.