It’s Chicken Salad time!
This tangy, sweet, and fresh chicken salad is like taking a big breath of spring in, but without all the pollen!
There is not a cook in the South worth her salt that does not have a recipe for Chicken Salad. Many have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Some are upstarts, using ingredients not available to the average southern home until recently. Mine I guess would fall into the later category. Growing up chicken salads featured apples, grapes, occasionally pineapple and almost always pecans. Why Pecans versus Walnuts? Simple. My grandmother had more than one pecan tree in her backyard, but no walnut tree. Why would you buy something that grows in your backyard?
So over the years, chicken salad became a rather dull and predictable affair. With my own family, I never made it. My children had (and to some degree still have) a complete aversion to mayonnaise. so it was not until fairly recently that I revisited the idea of making chicken salad. After all, my husband loves it, I quite like it, and it is reasonably inexpensive to make for large crowds. Most importantly, it is something I can mostly make ahead and finish up at the last minute. So the search began. I tried a lot of variations until I stumbled onto one in The Tea Table: Soups, Savories, & Sweets by Shelley and Bruce Richardson. As with all recipes I tried their version first and then I began to tinker with. So below is my version which I call:
Curried Chicken Salad with Mango and Cashews
3 cups Cooked Chicken
1cup Diced celery
1/2 cup diced scallions
3/4 cup of cashews
1/3 cup Duke’s Mayonaise
1/3 cup greek yogurt (plain)
3 teaspoons of curry powder
1/2 teaspoon of Cumin
2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon of agave syrup
Salt and Pepper to taste
For my Chicken I typically use grilled chicken which I marinate in lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and cilantro. I buy the large “family” size package of boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs (almost always cheaper). I will cook it all on the grill. Then the next day it could show up in soup, quesadillas, or chicken salad. Today, it is chicken salad. I may keep grilled chicken on hand, but you can use any cooked chicken you want or have. Rotisserie chicken also works nicely. I just would not use deli sliced chicken. It will likely have a lot preservatives that will throw off the taste.
Chopping the chicken is pretty straightforward. Chop into bite sized pieces. If you are using a whole chicken you may want to pull it with a fork. the taste will not change. However, if you are trying to force the finished salad into a pastry shell or hulled out tomato, chopping is going to preferable. If you’re staying traditional by sandwiching your chicken salad or freshening it up by having chicken salad lettuce cups (my favorite), both shredded and chopped chicken will work.
The dice on the celery and onions should be fairly fine. I start by making 3 or more slits lengthwise (with the ribs) in the celery and then slice crosswise (perpendicular) to the ribs.
For the onions, I make a lengthwise slit and the chop finely cross wise.
Once chopped, place the 3 items in a large mixing bowl. Cut the lime in half, squeeze the juice over the chicken and vegetables.
Place all ingredients for the dressing into a mixing bowl.
I typically do not salt and pepper at this stage, because I am using chicken that is probably pre salted. If you are fairly sure that there is no seasoning on your chicken and you want to add it to the dressing, I would start at a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. You can always add more.
Cover the chicken and vegetables with the dressing. Mix thoroughly.
Place in a covered container and refrigerate.
DO NOT add the Mango and Cashews until you are ready to serve.
Some of you may know how to chop mango, but if you don’t this might help. Mangos have a large flat seed in the middle. You have to cut around it. For this,t you are best off using a boning knife (a thin 5-6 inch clawed knife). Holding the mango in one hand, slide your knife into the mango at about the 40% of the way on the mango to avoid the seed.
If your knife doesn’t slide in easily and your knife is sharp, your mango may not be ripe enough. Do not use green mango. It will not taste as good. The mango should have a slight give to the skin when pressed. Slide your knife along the seed until you have cut it in half.
Make slits lengthwise through the mango that do not pierce the skin. Then make slits across the mango.
Push the skin to flip the mango inside out. it should look a little like a porcupine.
You can then run your knife along the skin to remove the chopped fruit. Then place chopped fruit into a bowl.
If you are doing this step a day or two in advance, you may want to squeeze a little fresh lime over it to prevent any discoloration. The lime is optional in my opinion. After all it is eventually going to be covered with curry dressing.
You may chop the cashews in advance or just prior. Either way will work.
Just prior to serving add the mango and cashews to the chicken base and stir thoroughly.
Like I mentioned before, I presented my spring chicken salad in a hollowed out puff pastry. This puff pastry hack is a quick and simple way to class up any afternoon tea party or hors d’oeuvre! Leave a comment below if you are interested in learning how I did it and I will make a special bonus blog post about it.
This is a great recipe to have with any Spring themed tea parties or to simply feed the family for a spring lunch. This should not be tremendously spicy unless you use a really hot curry powder. However, it does have a bit of a zing to it. The one thing this chicken salad will not be is boring!