When I think of chicken salad, I picture dainty bridal shower buffets, a WASP-y clutch of ladies giggling over champagne punch and tiny tea sandwiches. (I watched a lot of John Hughes movies growing up, so at my imaginary bridal shower all the guests are wearing 80s-era cabbage rose prints and fabric-covered headbands.)
There’s an ever tastier variation of the perennial tea-party favorite, a curried version studded with dried fruits and toasted almonds. “Coronation Chicken” made its grand debut at the luncheon honoring Queen Elizabeth’s (you guessed it) coronation in 1953, which when measured on a WASP scale pretty much blows those bridal shower ladies out of the proverbial water.
And you know what? This stuff is delicious! How it ended up in such polite company is beyond me, because there’s some voluptuous flavors and sink-your-teeth-in texture at play. Curry powder’s zingy blend of spices gives the salad a vibrant, complex flavor that’s balanced by the sweet notes of chutney and currants. Crunch from almonds and scallions add appeal, as does its Pollyanna-happy shade of marigold yellow.
I adapted two classic recipes for curried chicken salad, poaching skinless chicken breast (save that stock!) and cutting back on the mayonnaise quite a bit. Look for “Major Grey’s” style mango chutney, a sweetened and spiced jam named after a fictional colonist of the British Empire. (Incidentally, “The Major Greys” is an awesome name for an 80s cover band, is it not? They’d play songs exclusively from the Smiths catalogue and the lead singer would look like a young John Cusack.)
If tea parties celebrating brides or the monarchy aren’t your style, I can’t think of a better recipe for a fall picnic: do ahead, best at room temperature, full of flavor and perfectly suited to sides of roasted vegetables (brussel sprouts or caramelized sweet potatoes, perhaps?) and a crunchy Honeycrisp apple or fudgey brownie for dessert.
And since this fall picnic is also imaginary, picture a soaring New Wave anthem playing while assorted fish-out-of-water Brat Packers toss around a football with Queen Elizabeth, having overcome the stifling bounds of high school hierarchy. Go long, Liz!
- 1/2 C slivered almonds
- 1 lb chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
- 6 C water
- bay leaf
- one bunch scallions
- small onion, peeled and quartered
- 6 peppercorns, whole
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 C flat leaf parsley, finely chopped + 3 sprigs
- 1 C homemade or prepared mayo
- 1/4 C mango chutney, preferably Major Grey’s
- 1 Tbsp yellow curry powder
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 C currants
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast almonds for 5-7 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned. Roughly chop half the almonds.
In a large saucepan or dutch oven, add water, chicken breasts, peppercorns, salt, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and onions. Slice off the root from three scallions and add to stock. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool. Drain and discard solids; reserve chicken stock for another use, if desired. (Strain and put the cooled stock in the fridge. As the fat cools, it will rise to the top and solidify; skim this off. The light stock that remains can be frozen for later use.)
Prepare the curry mayo: in a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder, a pinch of salt and cider vinegar.
Finely chop 1/4 C parsley and add to a small bowl. Add 1/4 C finely sliced scallions (white and light green parts). Add currants.
Shred or dice the cooled chicken. Mix with curry mayonnaise and stir in parsley, scallions and currants. Keep the slivered almonds crunchy by adding just before serving. Serve on croissants, or as tea sandwiches on slices of walnut bread or petite honey-oat rolls.