Maggie Greville (1863-1942) was a nasty piece of work. The famous chatelaine of the glorious English country house Polesden Lacey had several strikes against her as she started her ascent up the social ladder. She was short, plump, and brunette in an era that idolized stately golden-blonde pulchritude, and she was a bastard, the recognized but illegitimate only child of a Scottish beer millionaire William McEwan, whose celebrated ale, McEwan’s, is still made today. As a consequence of these drawbacks, she grew up rich and defensive, with a tart tongue to match and a fearsome intellect. Her words could be so wounding that one of her contemporaries said, “Maggie Greville! I would sooner have an open sewer in my drawing room.” Chips Channon, the gossipy Member of Parliament, looked upon this feared society figure and political insider with wonder, writing, “There is no one on earth quite so skilfully malicious.” Even her friend Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, called her “amusingly unkind.” Cecil Beaton called her “a galumphing, greedy old toad” while Harold Nicholson dubbed her “a fat slug filled with venom.”
That being said, the mondaine Mrs Ronald Greville, wife of one of Edward VII’s best friends, was a superb hostess, greeting the high and mighty in the sumptuous rooms of Polesden Lacey, which had been decorated in high-Edwardian Francophile style by the architects of the Paris Ritz. Very often what was served on milady’s Sèvres porcelain, while she herself was swathed in a necklace that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, was a slightly complicated but tremendously pleasing chicken dish, Pulled and Grilled Chicken.
How complicated? Though it really isn’t that difficult to produce, let’s just say I won’t be making this every week by any means. But its combination of devilled dark meat and velouté-sauced white meat was delectable and surprising.
PULLED AND GRILLED CHICKEN
SOURCE: Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food (Hodder & Stoughton, 1991) and adapted from the original recipe published in English Country House Cooking by Fortune Stanley (Reader’s Union, 1974)
SERVES 4 PERSONS
1 ounce butter
2 tablespoons flour
7 fluid ounces chicken stock
3 fluid ounces single cream
Sea salt and white pepper
3 tablespoons chutney, not too sweet
2 teaspoons English mustard [we made it by following the directions on a canister of Coleman’s double super-fine mustard powder]
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
For Coating the Dark Meat
1-1/2 ounces dry white breadcrumbs
1/4 ounce butter
Boil or roast the chicken as usual. Remove the white meat from the breast and wings, place it in a mixing bowl, and pull the meat into coarse shreds, using two forks; set aside. Carve the legs into four neat joints and set aside. [Set oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit for future use.]
Make the velouté sauce by mixing all the ingredients together in a sauce pan. using some of the chicken stock if you have boiled the chicken. (If you choose to roast it, make a little stock in advance from the neck, wing tips, et cetera. You only need 7 fluid ounces.) Place the pan on the stove, over a low heat and stir frequently. Keep the sauce warm while you devil the brown meat.
Make the devil mixture: mix the chutney with the two mustards and the Worcestershire sauce. Make small slits in the outside of the brown-meat joints, through the skin, and rub all over with the devil mixture, then coat with crumbs. Dot with tiny bits of butter and [roast in preheated oven] until golden brown, turning to colour evenly.
To serve, stir the pulled meat into the velouté sauce and reheat [gently until relatively hot; use your judgement on this]. Pour into the center of a shallow dish and lay the grilled joints around the edge.