Angela Wood helped invent Coronation Chicken to mark the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 Photo: AFP

Coronation Chicken: the UK culinary classic fit for a queen

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By Martine PAUWELS

Angela Wood proudly recalls the poached chicken in creamy curry sauce recipe that she helped create for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, and which has since become a British culinary classic.

Coronation Chicken -- also called "Poulet Reine Elizabeth" -- is now so popular it can be found in supermarket ready-meals, pre-packed sandwiches and on the pages of many recipe books.

"It's not the same recipe though. It's just mayonnaise with a bit of curry put in," Wood, 89, says laughing as she talks about some modern versions of the famous dish.

Wood was only 19 when, as a student at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Winkfield, near Windsor, west of London, she was asked to perfect a recipe created by the school's director, Constance Spry.

Spry had been given the task of putting on a banquet for foreign dignitaries after the coronation on June 2, 1953.

"Constance Spry walked into the kitchen and said 'this is something we're thinking of doing for the coronation... we'll keep testing it until we get it right,'" said Wood at her home in the picturesque market town of Kimbolton in eastern England.

"Knowing that it was going to be foreign dignitaries from all over the world, she decided that it had to be slightly spicy but not over spicy," she told AFP.

Another constraint was that the dish had to be prepared in advance so had to be cold, added Wood, looking elegant with short white hair, fuchsia-colored lips and a matching cardigan.

The ingredients also had to be available in the UK, where, even for a royal banquet, imported food was limited after World War II because of rationing.

So Wood set to work in the kitchen, experimenting "two or three times a week, for possibly three or four weeks".

"We were forever boiling chickens," she said.

After constantly tweaking the ingredients, they found the right balance.

Wood showed AFP the original recipe, published in an old edition of the British gastronomic classic "The Constance Spry Cookery Book".

The chicken should be poached with a bouquet garni, while the sauce is a reduction of chopped onions, curry powder, tomato puree, red wine and lemon juice.

The mixture is then cooled and added to mayonnaise, lightly whipped cream and apricot puree.

"It's a strange mixture. And people do the first bit (curry powder and wine) and taste it and it's just so horrible and strong," she laughs. "I mean you can't believe that it can be right."

Wood is sometimes asked why she didn't use mango, as is used in many of today's versions of the classic.

"Well, we didn't have mangoes..., we didn't have Greek yoghurt," she said, adding that "nowadays people add all sorts of things".

The dish was described on the banquet menu, written in French, as "Poulet Reine Elizabeth" and was served to the 350 foreign guests with a rice salad containing peas and herbs.

It followed a tomato and tarragon soup and trout. Strawberry galette was served for pudding, all washed down with Moselle and Champagne wines.

Wood never pursued a professional career as a cook, and instead ran the family farm after she got married.

But for special occasions, she and her daughter still sometimes prepare the recipe that has assured her place in British culinary history.

She said she is "honored" to have helped create the British classic, which earned her a reception with the Queen at the royal estate in Sandringham in February to mark her 70 years on the throne.

To celebrate the monarch's record-breaking Platinum Jubilee, which will see four days of celebrations in early June, Britons have been invited to create a dessert for the queen. Nearly 5,000 amateur bakers entered the contest.

Inspired by the dessert served at the queen's wedding to Prince Philip in 1947, Jemma Melvin was unveiled as the winner on a special BBC program Thursday with her lemon Swiss roll topped by an amaretti trifle.

Melvin, 31, a copywriter from Southport near Liverpool in northwest England, was overjoyed after a panel of celebrity chefs unanimously picked her out of the five finalists.

"I'm going to be making my recipe for my gran at her street party," said Melvin, who learned the rudiments of baking as a child from her grandmother. "I found out that the queen had lemon posset at her wedding, so I decided the pudding had to be based around the lemon flavor.

"The thought of people recreating my pudding, especially round the jubilee, is just a total pleasure."

The pudding consists of lemon curd Swiss roll on the bottom, topped by St Clement's jelly, lemon custard, mandarin coulis, whipped cream, candied peel, chocolate shards and crushed amaretti biscuits.

Judge Roger Pizey, executive pastry chef at the luxury department store Fortnum and Mason, said: "I really think we'll be making Jemma's trifle for at least the next 50 to 100 years, without a doubt."

© 2022 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Would love to try the original.

The lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle which won the competition will have the same staying power.

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