When I was studying at university, I had a job in a fairly rough pub, making counter lunches. We used one end of the Front Bar as a makeshift kitchen, with a pie warmer, fridges and a microwave, all jammed into a tiny corner. The clientele was largely railway workers and people who lived in the nearby Salvation Army men's hostel, and the food we served was substantial blokey food - pies, bakes, rolls and so on - always good food but definitely no frills. But once a year on Melbourne Cup Day the whole place went decidedly upmarket. The office workers from nearby would descend on the Ladies Lounge for a cup lunch, and we would serve a fixed price meal, to go with their cheap champagne and cask wine. The owner of the pub always insisted that we include Coronation Chicken in the menu. Having little experience of Cup lunches at the time, I just presumed that this meal must be "de rigeur" for a day of hats and horse racing. Needless to say, I have never since seen Coronation Chicken served on Cup Day.
Which is not to say that it shouldn't be. I had completely forgotten how charming this salad is, especially in the hot and sweaty months of the year, however a column from Jill Dupleix in last month's Delicious Magazine (Feb 09) reminded me. It really is a lovely cold salad. Even better, I put it together using up some leftover cooked chicken (part of my ongoing 09 crusade against leftovers). Served in a hollowed out papaya shell, it was easily winning enough for a day at the races.
(And why is it called Coronation Chicken? Apparently the recipe was conceived as a lunch for the Commonwealth Heads of State who gathered for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. Cold salad was easy to serve to a multitude and the curry spices were a diplomatic nod at some of the far flung reaches of the empire).
Coronation Chicken adapted from Jill Dupleix in "Delicious"
1 poached, roasted or BBQed chicken (or leftovers - if less than one whole chicken, adapt amounts accordingly)
6 cooked potatoes chopped (I think I would leave this out next time and serve with a lovely bread on the side instead)
1 Lebanese cucumber chopped
1 tbs chopped chives, plus extra as garnish
1 butter lettuce (or 1 bag mixed summer lettuce leaves)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 papaya, cut into chunks
2 tbs mayonnaise (use the best you can)
1/3 cup yoghurt (low fat is fine)
2 tbs mango chutney
1 tbs mild curry powder
1 tsp tomato paste
Tabasco to taste
1 tbl of lemon juice
Whisk dressing ingredients together until smooth then season to taste. If it is too thick, water it down a little by whisking in 1 tbl of water. Cut chicken into bite size chunks. Toss the chicken, potato, papaya, and cucumber in the dressing. Put a bed of lettuce on each plate and top with the chicken salad. If you are serving in a papaya shell, slice a tiny bit off the bottom so it sits flat on a plate and serve the salad into it. Sprinkle with cumin seeds and chives.