curried chicken salad
The weather here in the good ol’ South has gotten ridiculously hot, so I’m taking great pains to not run the oven or hover over the stove. I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon swapping salad recipes with my friend Caprice. Her kitchen in Baltimore is, from what I understand, tiny and unbearably hot in the summer to the point where she can't stand in there doing anything without sweating buckets; so she’s always on the lookout for filling salads that transport well in a lunch bag.
I’m really weird about mayonnaise-based chicken salads. It’s one of those things that I never ate growing up. We ate tuna salad sandwiches at home, but never branched out to chicken salad. This might have had to do with the cost factor, as cans of tuna are relatively cheap and can be stretched a long way. As an adult, I’m still not terribly fond of mayo-based salads, as they can tend to be too gloopy and soggy. It’s just not something I order when out at a restaurant.
Back in 2001, the boy and I moved in with his sister and her husband, and she used to make a variation of this curried chicken salad that I grew fond of, primarily because of the addition of curry to the dressing. It makes it interesting enough for me to like, and if dressed properly (as in, dressed lightly), can be really delightful. The boy has tweaked this recipe over the years, and now we have it to our liking.
The recipe below is a guideline; add however amounts of the fruit you want.
the boy's curried chicken salad
½ to ¾ cup mayo
1 tablespoon curry powder (we use hot Madras curry powder)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
Salt & pepper
2 or 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup seedless grapes, cut in half
½ of a green apple, diced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 big shallot, diced
large sandwich-sized croissants, or your favorite bread
1. Cook the chicken breasts however you want, whichever way is easier for you. you can even use leftover roasted chicken if you have that available. For this recipe, i usually poach the chicken in a mixture of half chicken stock and half water that I’ve brought to a simmer before adding in the chicken. you need enough liquid to cover the breasts. Let simmer for 8 – 10 minutes. Haul one of the chicken breasts out and cut it in half; if it’s still pink and raw on the inside, toss it back in for another minute or two. When poached, haul out all the chicken breasts and let them cool on a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, dice chicken and add to a large mixing bowl.
2. Prep all the vedge and fruit by dicing it however large or small you’d like. I prefer dicing it as small as possible, like a brunoise. It’s a pain in the ass to accomplish if you’re not handy with a knife, which is why I get the boy to do it most of the time; but it’ll sure get your knife skills up and running if you practice them on something like this. When the boy was in culinary school, we had a ton of vegetable stock going on at all times because he’d come home and practice his knife skills by cutting vegetables up. If you’re intrigued and want to know more, go to YouTube and do a search for “brunoise” – a ton of videos will come up. Anyhoo – when you’re done cutting up all the vedge, toss it into the bowl that is already hosting the chicken.
3. Add to a small bowl the mayo, the curry powder, about ½ of the lemon juice, the honey, a couple of pinches of salt, a dash of pepper. Mix well together. At this point, taste it and see if it needs more lemon juice or mayo or honey. The dressing should be fluid but not too liquidy. Add some of it to the large bowl (by God, don’t dump it all in at once), and mix gently. It’s best to use your IMPECCABLY CLEAN hands for this, but a big spoon will do. If you need more dressing, add it a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want to overdress any salad, or coleslaw for that matter. Making your dressing separately and then adding it a little at a time until you’ve got it to your liking will prevent any salad from drowning and being too unappealing to eat. I’ve cringed while watching people dump in the whole of their dressing into a salad, only to have it be a runny inedible mess.
4. At this point taste the salad for seasoning (salt and pepper – it should be curried enough), and then spoon onto a nice toasted buttery croissant or slices your favorite bread. Toasted bread tends to hold up better to loose salads than non-toasted, but that’s a matter of preference. Add some crisp lettuce leaves and eat.
This recipe makes 4 to 6 healthy sandwiches, depending on how many chicken breasts you use and on how thick you want your sandwich.