Curried chicken salad
August 31, 2011 § 15 Comments
I know I’ve mentioned that I have a meat CSA (community supported agriculture) in addition to a vegetable CSA before, but I can’t remember if I’ve spoken about it at length. And it’s been a long day, and I’m too lazy to check the archives, so I’m going to go ahead and make the executive decision to speak about it at length. In particular, to say: I looooooooooove it! I love it! It’s the best! To be able to get your meat, in a wide assortment of cuts and types, once a month from a farm where you know the animals are being raised sustainably and humanely. Just thinking about it induces a little sigh of relief.
(Given that I can’t eat legumes, many nuts, or unsprouted whole grains, meat winds up being fairly important in my diet, and before I found my CSA it was quite a struggle.)
Kim, the farmer, is wonderful. So friendly, gregarious, and accommodating, and completely uncompromising of principles. They have an open barn once a month so you can come out and “meet your meat,” which is something one really ought to have a chance to do, if one is going to eat meat, and is also a signal, clear as a mountain brook, that they have nothing in their process to hide. And, did I mention the hen house? When the chickens aren’t running about in the fields, pecking and scratching for insects, they roost in an old bus, salvaged from a dump.
An old bus! How wonderful is that image?! And, even more fascinating, between the solar heat and the heat from the feathery little chicken’s bodies, the bus requires no extra energy inputs to make it a pleasant abode for the birds, even in the winter. A chicken Hilton, on wheels…with tires that have gone flat.
And everything we get from Kim just tastes so much better than most of the meat you encounter. When someone says, “tastes like chicken” about something, they mean it tastes chewy, bland, generally inoffensive and entirely uninteresting. But, that’s not what chicken should actually taste like, it turns out. It should taste like chicken! (I’m afraid there’s not really a good way to describe it, so you’re going to have to make some inferences from the bold italics. It’s juicy, nuanced, and I swear you can detect fragrant hints of grass and wildflowers in there – maybe they soak it in while they’re scritching and squabbling about.)
Last week, when we picked up our meat share, not only was there the standard cooler of frozen meat waiting there, Kim was also selling fresh whole chickens. Fresh, as in, harvested that morning, which puts the general amazingness of flavor onto another whole level. Of course we had to buy one. It was also exciting because we rarely come by a whole chicken. Kim knows we’re just a little household, and tends to give us cuts of meat to match. But now and then, your life just needs a whole chicken in it. For roasting. And making a steaming, nourishing stock with the remains.
We dreamed up sepia vignettes of a Sunday family dinner with a burnished roast chicken on the table, surrounded by tender vegetables. But, one thing led to another, and a couple of days passed where cooking dinner at home simply wasn’t in the cards. Then, Joel up and vacated the continent on work related business, and the chicken and I were left alone to our own devices. A whole chicken is a lot for one person to manage, but there was nothing else for it. I faced down the chicken, knowing that I had only one option. To roast it. And make that nourishing stock out of the remains.
Happily, in my family, we have a go-to method for disposing of excessive cooked chicken leftovers. Like a refrain of a song playing on loop, when there is extra chicken, we make curried chicken salad, over and over. It’s that good.
It started a few years ago, when we had all gathered in the summer at our cabin. I have no idea why we cooked up a bunch of chicken breasts with no ostensible plan for them, but we did. And, I don’t remember from whence my idea to make curried chicken salad came (I do know I had never eaten it before), but I had it. We shredded the chicken, stirred it together with some mayo, sour cream, green onions, curry powder, and dried fruit. I think we may have sprinkled cashews on top. Voila. A flat-out, no holds barred obsession was born. An obsession that, whenever we are together, leads to conversations that start with, “hey remember your chicken salad?! We should make that again soon.” And then we do.
I know I’ve shared with you a recipe for curried tuna salad on here. So, maybe sharing a curried chicken salad seems repetitive. But, it’s not, I swear. They’re quite different. For example…that one has tuna in it, and this one has chicken. Ok, there are some similarities. But the addition of lemon juice brightens this one in a distinct way, and the scallions add a savory punch. The cilantro (or parsley, which is what I used this time because my cilantro has kicked the bucket, but I prefer cilantro) freshens it up and pulls it together, like a quick swipe of a powder brush to the nose.
There is more dressing, so the chicken is well slicked in a creamy spicy-sweet-tangy curry sauce. A wide variety of dried fruit will work in this salad – I’ve had raisins, cherries, currants, before – but my favorite is chopped, dried apricots, with their heady, hot summer-evening sweetness. The first time I concocted this recipe, I used sour cream in addition to mayo, but I’ve since swapped it out for yogurt, which adds similar creaminess and tang, but doesn’t coat your tongue as thickly. If you’d like to add chopped celery or nuts, I leave that up to you. It makes for a more traditional chicken salad. But, always consider carefully whether you want a green, watery crunch in your salad. Some days you do, some days you don’t.
Stir, toss, season. Then, mound the salad on some bread or a bed of lightly dressed greens. If you’re like me, suddenly having a whole chicken just to yourself seems like something you should do more often. I may have to give Kim a call.
Curried chicken salad (serves 5 or 6)
- the meat of 1 small (3 lb.) roasted chicken, shredded (you can also roast up 2 whole, bone-in skin-on chicken breasts)
- 1/3 cup (heaping) finely chopped dried apricots (other dried fruits work well too)
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup Greek-style yogurt
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1 heaping Tbs. chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley
- 2 tsp. curry powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- Put the shredded chicken, chopped apricots, and scallions in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro/parsley, and curry powder. Add a litte salt and pepper.
- Toss the dressing with the chicken mixture. Taste again and adjust the salt and pepper. Serve on sandwiches, or in a wrap, or piled on lightly dressed salad greens.