Coronation Chicken was created in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s crowning in 1953 and was served at her coronation luncheon. The original recipe was credited to Rosemary Hume of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and combined Indian spice-inspiration with the few readily available ingredients in post-war London. Like many enduring recipes, it’s been toyed with a million different ways. Today, it’s ubiquitous at every corner sandwich shop in the U.K., and every British chef has a version. I sorted through stacks of recipes to cut to the heart of what I wanted: vibrant curry flavor, twangy fruit undertones, thick creamy sauce, and tender chicken.
Why should you care, and more importantly, why should you make Coronation Chicken? Because you need a new idea for lunch and because this is the curried chicken salad to beat all curried chicken salads. I’m serious.
I’ve sampled my fair share of curried chicken salads across supermarket deli counters, and found them edible but pretty mediocre. The kiss of death for a curried chicken salad is a lackluster, one-dimensional curry flavor (mostly from curry powder) and stingily applied mayo. This version, adapted from chef Tom Aikens, more than compensates. Yes, there are several more steps than “dump chicken-curry powder-mayo in a bowl,” but to achieve this intensity of flavor—a rich, buttery, robust flavor beyond most sandwich filling you’ve ever encountered—the extra steps of a cooked sauce are worth the effort.
I streamlined the base sauce, eliminating shallots and chiles, going straight for blooming the curry powder in sizzling butter. For the sweet element, I stuck with apricot jam rather than the perennial Brit favorite: Major Grey’s chutney. After whisking and reducing the curry mixture, you’re left with a gleaming, tamarind-colored sauce, resembling a fruity barbecue sauce. I used a medium curry powder, which along with the mango chunks, suffused the dish with a sunflower yellow. Finally, rather than using dry rotisserie chicken or poached breasts, I roasted skin-on breasts to juicy succulence.
Many recipes encourage eating a scoop of this on dressed salad leaves or shredded butter lettuce, but it is equally perfect sandwiched on what Nigella Lawson would refer to as “squidgy white bread.”
I mean it when I say this is the best curried chicken salad I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, your majesty.
Adapted from Tom Aikens’ recipe
- 2 bone-in, skin-on large split chicken breasts
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. curry powder
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth (I use Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock)
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 2 Tbsp. apricot jam
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
- Pinch of cayenne
- 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh mango, diced
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup slivered or flaked almonds, toasted
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Rub chicken breasts all over with olive oil, salt, and pepper and place on a baking sheet, preferably on an elevated baking rack inside the sheet. Roast breasts for about 45 to 55 minutes, until juices run clear. Allow to cool completely, then peel off skin, discarding or setting aside for another use (like snacking). Pull chicken meat off bones. Cut meat into bite-sized chunks and set aside.
In a small sauce pan, melt butter and stir in curry powder. Cook over high heat, stirring spices until toasted and quite fragrant. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching for about 1-2 minutes. Add wine, stock, apricot jam, and whisk until smooth. Let it bubble away until the mixture is thickened and reduced to about a quarter of a cup, about 5-7 minutes, whisking occasionally to ensure it’s not sticking. Cool mixture for about 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, add mayonnaise, crème fraîche (or sour cream), and cooled sauce mixture, a pinch of cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir until smooth, and taste for salt and pepper balance. Fold in chicken, scallions, mango and almonds until uniformly enrobed in the sunny sauce. If you have time, chill the chicken salad in the fridge for up to an hour to let the flavors fully develop. Enjoy on sandwich bread, or scooped onto lettuce.