Coronation Chicken–A Sandwich Fixing Fit for a Queen

Depending on the quality and amount of curry used, the color of coronation chicken can range from acid yellow to subtle ochre. I like to think mine is the latter

Coronation chicken isn’t so well known in these parts (i.e. the U.S.) but in the U.K., this dish has a fabled history.

A humble dish with a regal name, coronation chicken was invented by Rosemary Hume, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, joining the ranks of its Anglo-Indian brethren, chicken tikka masala and mulligatawny soup. It’s basically chicken salad’s gussied up little sister–shredded chicken dressed with a curry- and chutney-spiked mayo and studded with raisins–served over basmati rice or between bread.

According to this Guardian Newspaper article (where you can also read more about its provenance and permutations), coronation chicken was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth chicken). And since Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year (she ascended the throne 60 years ago on February 6th, and her coronation took place June 2, 1953), why not pay tribute to my colonial heritage?

And besides, I had leftover chicken, curry powder, and preserves just waiting to be used up. Operation “Cook Down My Kitchen” cracks on!

Do you have a favorite way with coronation chicken?

~~~

Coronation Chicken

I first discovered Coronation Chicken when I was living in England. A friend ordered a coronation chicken sandwich for lunch one day. (This was one dish that didn’t quite catch on in the colonies, at least not Singapore). I wasn’t enticed by the turmeric yellow-tinged chicken but she coaxed me into having a bite and I’m glad she did! That first bite was an intriguing mélange of tender chicken, spicy curry, and sweet raisins. I’ve had many versions since then, not always tasty and often not pretty. I came up with a dressing that wasn’t too sweet, doing away with the requisite raisins/dried apricots of many recipes, and cut the greasy mayo with the lighter texture of yogurt. Plus, I added some celery (another refrigerator legacy!) for a nice crunch. The result–a light and bright filling I enjoyed sandwiched between hearty slices of herb bread.

Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 appetizer servings, or enough filling for 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 4 drumsticks or 3 breasts worth)
2 stalks celery hearts, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon preserves (I used a tropical mix but try apricot) or mango chutney
2 tablespoons yogurt (whole milk or lowfat is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
A few squirts of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken and celery in a medium bowl.

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the curry powder until fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine the curry powder, chutney, yogurt, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Fold the curry dressing into the chicken until the chicken is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the chicken on a bed of lettuce leaves or between slices of freshly baked bread.

Chicken Biryani Three Ways

IMG_0207

I first met Jafar “Jeff” Siddiqui 16 years ago when I first came to the U.S. Jeff and his wife Kathy were my brother’s host parents. Every year, FIUTS, an organization at the University of Washington, plays matchmaker, pairing newly arrived foreign students with American families who are willing to host them for a week and help them transition to a new culture and country.

Just as they did with my brother, Jeff and his family graciously took me under their wing, and we’ve become lifelong friends.

My first few thanksgivings and Christmases were spent with the Siddiquis and we’d go over for other occasions, both special and casual. I devoured my first plate of roast turkey smothered with gravy and cranberry sauce at theirs, and I was introduced to Kathy’s chili and cornbread one lunchtime. And every so often Jeff would cook up dishes hailing from his native Pakistan. “This is NOT Indian cuisine!” Jeff would declare, not realizing I had spied a cookbook on the kitchen counter with the word ‘Indian’ emblazoned somewhere on its front cover. I knew better than to open my mouth so I’d stifle a giggle, roll my eyeballs, and continue eating my plate of chicken curry, dhal or whatever sumptuous spiced dish was on the table.

I’ve met the extended family from both sides–mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins–and I’ve watched their kids grow up. The oldest, Heather, is now a beautiful young woman of 17 and Arman is 13 and already taller than his dad.

So when I started working on my cookbook, I naturally asked the Siddiquis if the had any recipes to share. The kids were unanimous: Amma’s Rice, the name for their grandma’s chicken biryani.

Jeff’s mother, “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, never recorded the recipe so all her children and grandchildren were left with were fleeting taste memories on their palates.

Last summer, Jeff’s sisters Fazi (who lives in Holland) and Samia (who lives in Seattle’s eastside suburb, Bellevue) recreated it in Samia’s kitchen, with Arman supervising of course.

IMG_0212

Arman cooking in my kitchen 

And lucky me, I got to cook Amma’s Rice twice: once with Arman and another time with Samia. Arman came with a recipe his Aunt Fazi dictated over the phone the night before (and a veiled warning from his dad not to disgrace the family); whereas at Samia’s, we cooked based on the recipe notes she took when her sister visited.

IMG_0904

Clockwise from bottom left: Lou (Samia’s husband), Samia, Jeff, Arman and Lena (Samia and Lou’s daughter) 

Although both versions had almost identical ingredients, there were subtle differences. I was fascinated that the same recipe could be interpreted in different ways by siblings.

Here’s what I observed based on my cooking sessions with Arman and Samia, and Jeff’s interjections:

-Fazi likes her biryani with lots and lots of butter–her recipe uses about 2-1/2 sticks of butter!

-Samia uses ghee instead of butter and likes to add a tad more spices–more peppercorns please! Samia prefers lamb in her biryani too.

-Jeff likes to cook his rice with more water: a ratio of 1 rice to 2 water, instead of Samia’s 1 to 1-1/2. He also likes more salt!!

– Both sisters use breast meat in their recipes but Jeff swears by tender, juicy dark meat.

My conclusion? This would make for a fun, non-scientific experiment among siblings. Pick a favorite recipe you remember your grandma or mom cooking and see how each of you interprets it. Drop me a comment with your results!

Amma’s Rice

“Amma” means mother and this dish is named for “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, the late matriarch of the Ashraf/Siddiqui family. The recipe was never written down so her grandson Arman set out to recreate the recipe with his aunts Fazi and Samia one afternoon. Generally, chicken biryani is a sumptuous Pakistani/Indian dish often reserved for special occasions such as weddings, parties, or holidays like Ramadan. Samia remembers it as her mum’s go-to dish when expecting company. The preparation is rather lengthy but all the work is definitely worth it! Basmati rice with its thin, fine grains is the ideal variety to use. If unavailable, long grain rice is the next best thing; short grains result in mushy rice.

Time: 2-1/2 hours
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

3 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ghee
2 medium onions, sliced thinly (about 4 to 5 cups)
1 head garlic, peeled and minced*
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced*

Whole spices:
10 to 12 black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
Seeds from 8 to 10 cardamom pods
3 (3-inch long) cinnamon sticks

Ground spices:
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons (or more to taste) plus pinch salt
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 breasts)
1/2 cup yogurt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-1/2 cups cold water

Raita (recipe to follow)

Wash rice in 2 to 3 changes of water. Soak until required.

Place saffron threads in a small bowl and pour in boiling water. Soak until required.

In a (6-quart) wide-mouthed pot or Dutch oven, melt 1/2 cup ghee over medium heat. Fry onions until soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Toss in whole spices and stir well. Add ground spices and 2 teaspoons salt, and stir for another 30 to 45 seconds.

When onions have turned yellowish, add chicken and mix well to coat. Cook and stir until chicken is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup yogurt and mix well. Cook, covered, over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until water evaporates and oil starts to separate.

IMG_0871

Turn off heat and leave pot on stove, covered.

Drain rice well. Heat oil in a (4-quart) pot. Fry rice over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 4-1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon ghee and pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. When rice kernels separate, rice is done. Set aside, covered.

Uncover chicken and spread pieces evenly in pot. Smooth 1/4 cup yogurt evenly over chicken. Layer cooked rice over chicken and yogurt as evenly as possible, smoothing down any clumps.

IMG_0881

Drizzle saffron liquid, including threads, over rice. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

IMG_0888

Spoon chicken and rice into a large bowl with a low rim and mix thoroughly. Pick out cinnamon sticks and serve with raita and (store-bought) chutney.

Optional garnish:
Soak raisins in water for 10 minutes until they’re plump, and dry with a paper towel. Fry with a little butter and scatter over rice.

Notes:
*You can mince both the garlic and ginger at the same time in a food processor.

Ghee is butter that has been slowly melted so that the milk solids and golden liquid have been separated and yields a more authentic taste. Use butter if you can’t find ghee.

Samia recommends buying free range, organic chicken breasts because they have not been injected with water like many conventional brands you find at supermarkets. And you don’t want a watery biryani.

Raita
2 cups yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch salt

In a small bowl, mix everything together with a fork until yogurt is smooth and there are no lumps.

Of Stuffed Wings and Tight Socks–Stuffed Cambodian Chicken Wings (Moane Teum)

“It’s just like pulling off a really tight sock,” said Phiroum Svy matter-of-factly. I had never thought of it that way. Then again, I’d never tried deboning a whole chicken before. (Here’s some trivia for you: debone and bone are synonyms, go figure!)

We were in Phiroum’s Covington kitchen preparing to make a Cambodian dish called moane teum which means yoked or joined chicken. It’s so named probably because the chicken is deboned and stuffed with a ground pork mixture, hence the joining of two meats? Visions of turducken came to mind.

Anyways, Phiroum was very eager to show me how to debone the chicken, thighs, wings and all.

**Advisory warning: if you are squeamish about raw chicken, do not, I repeat, do not read on.**

With all the patience of a grade school teacher she rolled up her sleeves and took her paring knife to the chicken’s breast bone. She inserted it into one side of the breast bone and sliced down the middle.
DSC05755

Then little by little, bit by bit, she separated the meat from the bone.

 

DSC05757
“The trick is to keep your knife as close to the bone as possible so as not to tear the skin,” she advised. “When you find the leg joint, insert the knife just against the bone and detach as you go.” The same goes for the wing joint.
DSC05761
Phiroum confessed that she hadn’t done this in a long time and professed to be out of practice. But watching her deftly scrape meat away from the bone and tug at the chicken skin, I was doubtful. Very soon all that lay on the cutting board was a limp chicken carcass soon to be stuffed.
DSC05768
I don’t know how many of you out there would be adventurous enough to try this at home so I won’t go into too much detail (if you’re a die-hard, go here). Besides, the best way to learn is through hands-on experience. Ask Phiroum–she’s a self-taught deboner.

~

Cambodian Stuffed Chicken Wings (Moane Teum)

Whether whole or as wings, this stuffed chicken recipe can only be described as mmm … mmm … lip-smacking delicious. I tried my hand at deboning wings and yes, it’s a lot of work but it’s worth it! It’s a popular Cambodian dish (the Thais and Vietnamese have a similar dish) but not something you’d eat or make everyday since it’s pretty labor-intensive. Even though I’ve written it up as a chicken wing recipe, you can use the stuffing for a whole deboned chicken (about 4-5 pounds) if you dare. Be warned, you’re going to have to practice your sewing skills too.

DSC05789

The versatile stuffing can also be used as a filling for fried spring rolls or in a rolled pork tenderloin.

Makes: 8-10 servings

20 deboned chicken wings, wingtips included (*deboning instructions below)

2-1/2 pounds ground pork

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

1 cup mung bean thread noodles, soaked for one hour and cut into 1/2-inch lengths (about 1/8 of 16oz package)

8 wood ear mushrooms, chopped coarsely (1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1/2 tablespoon sweet soy sauce or oyster sauce

1-1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

In a big bowl, marinate deboned wings with 2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Your hand is your best tool.

Gently squeeze meat mixture into each wing, filling until the wing tip joint. Don’t worry about holes in the skin.

Place wings in a baking pan, top down (you want the serving side to brown and crisp during the second half of cooking). Broil on low in oven till golden brown on one side, about 20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes. Do not use baking mode because chicken will not brown.

DSC05795

Cut into slices and serve immediately.

 DSC05819

If you stuffed a whole chicken, this is what it should look like:

DSC05824

Deboning wings

*Using a small sharp paring knife, start at the top of the drummette. Gently scrape the meat away from the bone leaving the skin intact. Pull skin and meat down as you go. At the first joint, use tip of knife to slide into joint to remove skin away from the bone first. Continue easing the flesh away from the bone. Push the skin and flesh down to expose the bones and carefully twist each bone out. Important: don’t break the bone till you get to the second joint!