Make my delicious Coronation Chicken Salad for your next celebration, whether it’s a family picnic or a royal garden party for the queens and kings in your world!
What is it?
Coronation Chicken Salad is the popular name embraced by the British public for Poulet Reine Elizabeth, the centerpiece of an elegant luncheon on the afternoon of her coronation in 1953. Chunks of chicken poached in a white wine broth, cut into large chunks, were dressed with an elegant and rich sauce of mayonnaise and cream, seasoned with curry powder, red wine, purees of tomato and apricot, and lemon juice.
Since its star turn at a royal luncheon on Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Day 1953, it’s become a British classic, a double favorite featured both as a plated main course on special occasions and a popular everyday sandwich filling at picnics, teas, and in the grab-and-go retail space.
Who created it?
Credit for Coronation Chicken Salad goes to chef and culinary educator Rosemary Hume, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and co-founded a prestigious cooking school, L’Ecole du Petit Cordon Bleu, with Dione Lucas, in London in 1933. She created the recipe for a special Coronation Day luncheon for international dignitaries invited to the celebration. As the event was held at a space adjoining Westminster Abbey which had very small kitchen facilities, she chose a cold entree which solved the issue of cooking and heating on site. Over time, Hume’s dish has evolved and been reinvented with many delicious variations.
Ingredients for Coronation Chicken Salad
What Is the Process for Coronation Chicken Salad?
Check out this photo lesson in how this easy but elegant tasty party dish comes together.
My recipe begins with cooked chicken, but in case you want to start at the very beginning, here’s the plan. Place three or four boneless skinless chicken breasts in a sturdy pot and add water to cover.
Put in some big carrot slices, a bit of onion, any herbs you have handy, and place over medium high heat. Cook until the pot comes to a lively boil. Cook 1 minute, and turn heat off, cover, and let stand for 25 minutes or so, until chicken is tender but cooked through. Remove, cool, and continue with the recipe, saving the broth for soup or other dishes.
For the curry flavored mayonnaise, heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and then add the chopped onion. Cook, sitrering occasionally, until shiny, tender, and aromatic.
Add the curry paste, stir well, and then cook, stirring now and then, until the curry aroma is pleasing and the onions have softened more.
Now assemble the curry-flavored onions in a large bowl with mango chutney, tomato paste, lemon juice, and mayonnaise. Stir stir stir to make it all into a spiced connection for the chicken, apricots, and herbs.
Mix it up here, for a well seasoned dressing to rule them all! More curry powder or less, more lemon juice if you want a tart touch; add a bit of honey if you’d like a mellow note — dressings like this lend themselves to tinkering, so tinker away, won’t you?
Down to the final assembly. This batch of chicken I shredded by hand, going for rough and rustic pieces but not too large to easily eat even with a fork and no knife, since you may be serving guests eating off plates filled at a buffet. If seated service is the plan, you could go for very generous chunks, appealing and enjoyable as long as guests can cut them up to suit themselves.
Apricots? Yes, Apricots!
In the original 1953 version? No, for that recipe, you’ll find apricot puree lists. This was likely canned apricots, drained and mashed or buzzed in a blender. That is surely what they had handy.
You’ll find that many more modern (by that I mean 1960-1990) versions moved to dried apricots chopped up and stirred in; and that is my personal favorite. Fruit and curry flavors make great friends, and in fact the ancient world and the non-Western world today celebrates such mixes. I do, too! And don’t sleep on the mango chutney — again, not in the original, but in this case, the original is a timid template which lends itself to all manner of inspiration. What’s your tweak? Go!
How about Curry Paste in Place of Curry Powder?
Curry powder is the traditional choice for this royal luncheon standard, and is widely available even in supermarkets, as well as online and in Asian grocery stores and supermarkets in a range of heat levels and flavor combinations. Curry paste works wonderfully and will likely bring a more intense flavor to your dressing.
Either way, paste or powder, do stop to taste after you’ve added the recipe amount, and consider increasing the spice content if you think you would like more dazzle and depth to your chicken salad.
How to Serve This Classic Recipe
Two Main Variations: Scoop or Spread
- Leave chicken in chunks, sauce it or dress it with curried mayonnaise, and serve on lettuce rounds
- Chop it finely and add plenty of dressing so it’s easily spread on sandwiches or tucked into croissants or elegant brioche buns.
Plated Version for Luncheons and Buffets
When you plan to serve it to guests with forks handy, generous chunks of chicken work wonderfully. You can present it in plump scoops, plated with bright generous leaves of a soft lettuce such as bibb, limestone, or Boston varieties.
For the cooked chicken at the heart of this dish, mix up the textures to add interest, using both light meat and dark meat, torn into chunks or hand-shredded into pieces of varying sizes, though none TOO unwieldy. You can also chop it with a chefs knife or cleaver to create big, generous bites of chicken.
If it’s finger-food time but still a bit fancy? Serve your curry-infused chicken dish in scoops on lettuce leaves, or with petite bites placed on spears of Belgian endive — this makes it an edible spoon for passed hors d’oeuvres.
Above I’ve plated it up on salad greens as a main course. That makes buffet serving simple as people can score a leaf’s worth without wrangling a big serving spoon and measuring out a portion.
Rice Salad on the Side? Yes! With Extra Points for Historical Accuracy…
Should you wish to salute the original Coronation Luncheon on June 2, 1953, created for honored guests who had traveled to London from throughout the Commonwealth, you could present your Coronation Chicken Salad on a serving platter, accompanied by a simple and elegant rice salad.
That’s in fact how the signature version of this dish, Poulet Reine Elizabeth, was presented at Her Majesty’s Coronation Luncheon, celebrating the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth in June of 1953.
Imagine the Great Hall of Westminster School, just across from Westminster Abbey, prepared for the 2:00 pm arrival of 350 international guests. The menu featured what we now know as Coronation Chicken Salad gorgeously presented, perhaps on 18th century Sèvres porcelain.
Paired on platters were both the the chicken salad in a rich curry-mayonnaise sauce accompanied by a salad of rice studded with diced cucumber, English peas, pimento, fresh herbs, dressed with a classic vinaigrette.
Sandwich Version for Party-Food Dainty Plates or Hearty Picnic Fare
If your goal is chicken salad suitable for spreading on sandwiches or tucking into croissants and such, finely chop the cooked chicken, rather than tear or shred or chop into nice chunks. That way it is easy to serve, easy to savor and enjoy, bite by bite.
When I’m going the sandwich route in any chicken salad recipe, I use chicken breast only, as its texture lends itself to fine chopping and melding into a smooth filling for tucking all sorts of edible containers and vessels.
Variations on a Coronation Chicken Salad Theme:
The lovely thing about a recipe like this is that it nearly begs us to fix and change and play and try things that suit our fancy. You join the fun, won’t you? There are no recipe police, only you and me out here considering what we have on hand, what our people like, what makes it more fun, what might be double-delicious?
The One-Way sign is in this case, simply wrong. Make it yours and then change it up next time if you haven’t struck culinary gold.
For this beloved dish, embellishments and flourishes abound. Some people add raisins, golden or dark; or grapes halved lengthwise; a big scoop of canned crushed pineapple, drained so that you don’t dilute the texture (drink the juice, please!).
Consider also: Diced celery or chopped apple. For herbal brightness: Chopped fresh dill or tarragon or cilantro.
Use apricot jam instead of apricots; chop up any big pieces very finely and use more mayo if you put it into a sandwich filling.
Finishing touches? Thinly sliced almonds! Cashews! or chopped pistachios!
Mayonnaise is wonderful but how about complexity via Greek yogurt; Sour Cream; Creme fraiche for part of the amount? Mayo is fluid and smooth but really it’s all just a means to make the chicken portable. Play around and find out what you like here. I’m going for Greek yogurt next time, and then creme fraiche — a reason to make it at home!
In a hurry: YES! to using a rotisserie chicken, removing skin and chopping the tender portions either into big bite sized chunks or finely for sandwich spread. The wings and legs tend to dry out, so prioritize the breast meat here and add all the skin and bones and drier bits to a small saucepan and make a small batch of chicken stock.
It’s kitchen gold! Not for this recipe but stick it in the freezer and find ways to enjoy it.
An Update for a Classic Recipe from the Palace Kitchens
If you are looking ahead and want the latest inspiration for this classic dish, consider this recipe shared this week by Le Cordon Bleu London. An updated coronation chicken salad served on a fine brioche bun with toasted coconut and mangetout (sugar snap peas) garní? Yes, please. Recipe and notes HERE.
What to Serve Along with This Historic Centerpiece Dish
Making this can-do recipe into a meal requires a few additional items, and I have ideas for you on that topic. Continuing with the spice and curry theme, I suggest you consider some of my favorite curry-fueled dishes which are fine party food. First is Curried Deviled Eggs.
These can please a wide range of guests and send you back home from a potluck with an empty serving plate, my favorite situation!
Then there’s a crispy corn-y Thai-inspired dish, Red Curry Corn Cakes, easy to serve up from your kitchen stove while guests set out their potluck offerings.
And if you have the curry category covered, consider my elegant and deceptively easy Upside Down Pear Pie — a spin on Tarte Tatin that looks posh, tastes scrumptious, and wins the day whether you serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or just as is.
Keeping and Storing Coronation Chicken Salad
Simply cover your curry-kissed apricot-studded chicken salad and chill it in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. It keeps well and in fact become more complex and richly flavored the day after it’s stirred together.
To serve, consider allowing for a 20 to 30 minute transition time between removing your coronation chicken salad from the refrigerator and presenting it at the table. This allows the flavors and aroma to bloom as the dish warms up just a bit.
This Year’s Version?
This looks very very tasty and I am eager to take a bite. You? The brioche bun? Smashing idea.
A Video Moment:
Here’s a quick little visual tour of what spices compose a classic curry powder. Pictured in a skillet, to illustrate the fact that many of the dried whole spices used receive a toasting session in a hot, dry pan, in order to open up and enhance their flavors and aromas. (1 min 25 sec). Look for the detailed recipe for this curry powder in the post introducing this video.
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons mango chutney*
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons curry powder or curry paste
- 3 cups cooked chicken shredded, chopped into big chunks or finely chopped
- 1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots**
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion***
Begin by preparing the curry dressing. In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, tomato paste, mango chutney, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside while you cook the onions.
Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When a bit of onion sizzles at once, add onion and stir. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant and shiny.
Add curry powder to the onions and stir to mix well. Cook 1 to 2 minutes more, mixing and stirring occasionally, noticing the curry's spiced aroma as it warms.
Scrape the curried onions into the bowl of mayonnaise and stir to mix all the dressing ingredients together well.
Prepare the cooked chicken. For a plated salad, tear the meat into strips by hand, or chop into bite-sized chunks. For a sandwich spread, chop chicken finely so it will be easier to spread and make handsome manageable sandwiches.
Add the chopped chicken and apricots to the bowl of curried dressing. Mix and stir to combine everything evenly and well. Add the green onion and parsley and mix well. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
To store: Cover and refrigerate chicken salad for 2 to 3 days.
*Mango chutney can be fairly smooth or rather chunky. If the chutney you are using has large chunks of mango, remove and chop them finely, and then stir them back in, so that the chutney can mix into the chicken salad evenly and well.
**You can substitute 2 or 3 tablespoons apricot jam in place of the chopped dried apricots.
***Prepare additional chopped parsley and green onion to stir in or sprinkle on top as garnish, if you wish.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 634Total Fat 52gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 40gCholesterol 113mgSodium 961mgCarbohydrates 17gFiber 3gSugar 12gProtein 26g