Friday, 14 January 2011

Coronation Chicken and New-Potato Salad

I've seen Coronation Chicken twice recently - once being made on TV, and once served at a lunch party - and I'm so encouraged to see this splendid classic of the Fifties getting the attention it deserves.

Soft, succulent chicken breasts and new potatoes in an aromatic,
creamy sauce. 
Late last year, my friend Michael Olivier made this dish on the Expresso show on SABC TV3, and did so with great affection and gusto (as he would, being an Older Person who remembers a time before sushi, pesto and Balsamic vinegar swept all the good old classics off the culinary map).

Then, just before Christmas, I went to a lunch party where a dish of perfect Coronation Chicken was contributed by my friend Emily. There were many glorious salads on the table, but it was her delicately spiced chicken that had me going back for seconds (and, okay, for thirds). I couldn't help feeling a bit envious, because I thought her version of Coronation Chicken, with its lovely tangy creaminess, was better than mine.

When I interrogated Emily, she told me she'd added some sour cream to the mayonnaise. In my 21st Century Coronation Chicken with Mango (February 2009), I used natural yoghurt to lighten and brighten the mayonnaisey sauce; clearly, sour cream is also needed if my version is to achieve Emily's heights of perfection.

And that's why you'll find a little sour cream in the recipe below. Leave it out and use the same quantity of yoghurt, if you're watching calories.

The inspiration for this salad comes from the delicious Bombay Potato Salad that I often buy at Giovanni's, Cape Town's best delicatessen. I've tried several times to reproduce this recipe, but I haven't been able to crack their special formula. The next best thing, I figured, was to use my own recipe for Coronation Chicken (with added sour cream!) and create an entirely new dish.

For reasons of economy and flavour, this recipe uses a whole chicken, which is cooked in a little flavoured liquid in the oven. You can use cooked deboned chicken breasts, if you like, but they won't have the same flavour and succulence.
If you must use chicken breasts, I suggest that you oven-poach them using this method.

The first time I made (and photographed) this dish, I topped it with a salsa of matchsticked red apple, granadilla pulp, lemon juice and red chilli. It tasted nice enough, but the salsa really wasn't necessary, so I've left it out of the recipe below. (You might want to give the salsa a bash, but why gild the lily?)

I've added a number of whole spices to the initial fry-up for the mayonnaise mix (and to the whole chicken) to give the dish a more complex, layered taste. If you're in a hurry, you can leave these out: the only thing needed for an authentic Fifties Coronation Chicken taste is a good, fresh, generic curry powder: I always use the Rajah brand (medium strength). Please resist the temptation to add fresh or dried chillies to this mixture: Constance Spry, one of the inventors of this dish, would turn in her grave.

Coronation Chicken and Potato Salad
I topped my salad with a  salsa made with apple sticks,
passion-fruit pulp and chilli, which was interesting, but not necessary.

Coronation Chicken and Potato Salad

For the chicken:
a large free-range chicken, trimmed of all excess fat
salt and pepper
half a large, unskinned onion
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
a lemon
boiling water

For the salad:
30 new potatoes
3 Tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
2 tsp (10 ml) black mustard seeds
a thumb-length stick of cinnamon
2 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped or coarsely grated
a large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) grated fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
2 slices of lemon, skin on
4 tsp (20 ml) tomato paste
4 Tbsp (60 ml) white wine
3 Tbsp (45 ml) apricot jam, or sweet, fruity chutney
4 Tbsp (60 ml) chicken stock (from the pan you used to cook the chicken)
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground turmeric
1 Tbsp (15 ml) medium curry powder
1 cup (250 ml) good home-made mayonnaise, or Hellman's mayonnaise
½ cup (125 ml) plain white full-fat yoghurt
½ cup (125 ml) sour cream
the juice of a lemon
salt and milled black pepper

To serve:
fresh parsley or coriander [cilantro]
a dusting of paprika

Preheat the oven to 180 ºC. Put the chicken into a large, deep roasting pan, and season well with salt and pepper, inside and out. Push the onion, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods and garlic into the cavity of the chicken. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze it over the chicken. Place one of the squeezed-out lemon halves into the cavity. Pour boiling water into the bottom of the roasting pan to a depth of three centimetres. Cover tightly with tin foil, and place in the hot oven.

Bake at 180º C for an hour and ten minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through. Remove from the oven and set aside, still covered.

In the meantime, place the new potatoes in a pot of salted cold water, bring to the boil and cook until just tender (about 20-25 minutes). Drain and set aside to cool.

Now make the dressing. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Fry, over a high heat, until the mustard seeds begin to pop and crackle. Now add the onion, garlic and ginger, turn down the heat a little and cook gently for two to three minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the bay leaves, lemon slices, tomato paste, white wine, apricot jam (or chutney) and chicken stock. Allow the mixture to cook at a brisk bubble for five to seven minutes, or until it has reduced slightly. You should have a slightly thickened, shiny spice paste. Stir in the cumin, turmeric and curry powder and cook for another minute.

Remove from the heat, fish out the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Strip the chicken from the bones and discard any skin, sinew or fat. Cut or tear into strips. Slice the new potatoes in half, crossways.

Put the mayonnaise, yoghurt and sour cream into a large bowl and whisk well. Add the cooled spiced paste, a few tablespoons at a time, until the mixture tastes right for you. I like a quite strongly flavoured dressing, but you might prefer a milder mix. (Any remaining spice paste can be refrigerated for use in a future curry.)

Stir in the lemon juice, along with the chicken and the halved new potatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Toss gently and thoroughly to combine.

Tip into a pretty salad bowl, and chill for at least an hour (but not more than two). Scatter with freshly chopped parsley or coriander and dust with a little paprika.

Serves 8.

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11 comments:

Kitchenboy said...

Wow! It looks absolutely delicious!

Nina Timm said...

Splendid my friend. Love tha fact that you comined my two favorite salads!

Adele said...

Beautiful dish! I love the look of the salsa, but my darling husband thinks he doesn't like fruit in dishes other than dessert. Saying that, I caught him sprinkling dried rose petals in the chicken soup he made the other day! Never a dull moment, I tell you.

Thanks for the recipe - one to remember.

Sam said...

What a classic and no doubt you have improved it. I have the 'Constance Spry Cookery book' (with Rosemary Hume) on my shelf and now feel inspired to flip through it. Its always good to look at the old and perhaps give it a small update.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

So if I remember Coronation Chicken with fondness, does that make me an Older Person? LOL!! Love it - and love your version :)

Mary said...

What a lovely salad. It is so good to see that the best of the old recipes weren't lost, just hibernating :-). I'm new here and just wanted you to know how much I like the food and recipes you feature here. I've enjoyed my visit and will be back. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you for your comments, my friends, and welcome to you, Mary.

Mei Teng said...

Delicious! :)

Kobus & Julie's wedding blog said...

I am told this recipe was developed when the Queen came out to the then Rhodesia to open Lake Kariba's Dam Wall, not long after her Coronation. With it being very hot at Kariba they had to come up with something delicious for the Queen that could be served cold? Do you know if this is true?

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Kobus.

Thanks for your comment. My information is that the dish was invented by florist Constance Spry and her associate Rosemary Hume for Queen Elizabeth's coronation luncheon in 1953. The recipe appeared in the The Constance Spry Cookbook, published in 1956, and within a few years had become an established classic. I will look into the Kariba connection, though.

Steve said...

Made this on Sunday - what a clever re-creation of that traditional cold buffet stalwart! (I'd given up on Coronation Chicken after a few too many examples featuring Crosse & Blackwell, lashings of sugar, and, alas, raisins)

Good things happened in that sticky brown spice mix. Not only the promised layers of flavour, but an unexpected deep golden colour when it hit the mayo/yoghurt mix.

The old potato salad trick works well here: halve the potatoes while still hot; toss them with a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar and leave to cool.

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