Best Cook: Coronation Chicken and Summer Pudding
In Italy, she watched the waiter slipping a peach from its skin before her 8-year-old eyes… In Portugal, she watched fishermen arranging the catch into baskets on the sand… And there was her English heritage, as well: Both parents were English and lived alternately in London and America. On either continent, her mother loved to cook and entertain.
Jilly Walsh names all of these as early influences that led to her career as an artist (designing hand-painted Italian ceramics) and her home life as a cook. For Jilly, you can’t have one without the other. “Beautiful food on beautiful plates-that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?” she says, scooping saffron-yellow chicken onto a glazed white platter, its center decorated with a fiery-red flower.
Colors, flavors, and arrangements emerge daily at her spacious 18th-century home in West Woodstock, Connecticut, which she shares with her husband, Alex. (For details, see “The Evolution of ‘Bachelor Hall,’” in our July/August issue.) Jilly is well-known for her “jubilees”: parties for 10, or 40, or 60 she manages outdoors-tables across the lawn, under tall trees-or just around her gracious dining room table, bright with tablecloths and napkins and, of course, the plates and bowls, without which the food is somehow diminished.
On our visit to West Woodstock, an English summer meal was in the works: “Coronation Chicken,” a cold curried salad devised in 1953 for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. “It was my mother’s favorite,” Jilly says. “She adapted the recipe and I’ve refined it over the years.” Light and tender, it’s a gently poached chicken, pulled apart and mixed with a mélange of curry, mayonnaise, yogurt, apricots, and white wine.
And then there’s “Summer Pudding,” made with fresh berries. It’s a gorgeous display of the fruits of deep summer and is said to be as common and adored in England as apple pie is in America. It’s another English classic that Jilly has adapted over the years, an easy, delicious, colorful dessert that requires no baking.
Both dishes are perfect for summer, perfect for Jilly’s colorful and inviting table. And, not so incidentally, perfectly delicious.
Coronation Chicken Recipe
total time: 24 hours;
hands-on time: 40 minutes
Jilly poaches a whole chicken. It takes a bit longer, but the meat is remarkably flavorful and tender.
- 1 whole 3-1/2-pound chicken
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil
- 1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)
- 1 heaping tablespoon apricot jam
- 5-6 dried apricots, diced
- 1 small onion or shallot, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup white wine (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head lettuce (optional)
Tie chicken legs together and place bird in a stockpot with bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover completely with water and bring to a boil. Add salt, turn off the burner, cover, and let chicken sit until cool, about 5 hours. Drain and reserve liquid for use in sauce or soup.
Remove chicken skin and bones (add them to the reserved liquid if you like). Break meat into bite-size pieces, careful to remove gristle and tendons.
Place chicken meat in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients (yogurt through pepper) and mix thoroughly. Cover, and refrigerate overnight if possible. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve on a bed of lettuce or on individual plates.
Yield: 6 servings