What is Coronation Chicken?

Everything you need to know about this royal dish and how it came about.

Coronation Chicken
Photo: Diana Moutsopoulos

Queen Elizabeth II, the 96-year-old monarch of Britain, took the throne when her father, King George VI, died on February 6, 1952. A formal coronation was held on June 2, 1953. That day was historic for many reasons, including being the first-ever televised Coronation that was watched by 27 million UK viewers and millions more worldwide. It was also the day that the now-famous Coronation Chicken was invented.

The dish was created specifically for Queen Elizabeth's coronation luncheon, but what, exactly, is Coronation Chicken and how did it become fit for a Queen?

What is Coronation Chicken?

The first Coronation Chicken recipe was created by Le Cordon Bleu London, one of the oldest culinary schools in London. The dish was described as "chicken, boned and coated in curry cream sauce, with, one end of each dish, a well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and pimentos," according to Le Cordon Bleu London's website.

Essentially, this original dish was cold chicken in a curry cream and mayonnaise sauce — in other words, chicken salad. The recipe consisted of young chicken, water, wine, carrot, bouquet garni (which is a bundle of fresh herbs), salt, peppercorns, and a cream of curry sauce, according to Le Cordon Bleu London.

Today, many recipes include additional ingredients like sliced almonds, dried apricots, sultanas, cashews, pomegranate seeds, mango chutney, and crème fraîche. Coronation Chicken is popularly used in salads or a as a filling for sandwiches or jacket potatoes.

History of Coronation Chicken

When served at Queen Elizabeth II's coronation luncheon, the dish was called Poulet Reine Elizabeth, but became known as Coronation Chicken. It's often credited to Le Cordon Bleu London principals Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume.

Sir David Eccles, the Minister of Works at Le Cordon Bleu, asked Hume and her students to prepare a menu for the luncheon that would serve 350 people, who were mostly representatives from other countries. Hume and Spry proposed the cold chicken salad that could feed a crowd and be prepared ahead of time. It's believed that Coronation Chicken was inspired by Jubilee Chicken, which was served at George V's silver jubilee in 1935.

It may seem odd that a simple chicken salad was served at the Queen's coronation at Westminster Abbey, but the dish actually used quite remarkable ingredients for the time. Ingredients, like curry powder, were just becoming available in Britain because of post-war rationing so they could be difficult to find. Nowadays, some Coronation Chicken recipes use fresh curry paste or garam masala, which are available at most grocery stores.

How to Make Coronation Chicken

Though Coronation Chicken is no longer served for Queen Elizabeth's celebrations — she's swapped it for her Golden Jubilee Jubilee Chicken or 2022's Platinum Jubilee Platinum Pudding — you can still make the famous dish at home. Whether you want to serve it at your own Jubilee celebration or simply make it because you love the royal family, try our top-rated Coronation Chicken recipe.

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