Why It Works
- Starting the chicken in room-temperature water and then cooking it at a gentle heat keeps the flesh tender and juicy.
- A homemade blend of spices delivers deeper, fresher flavors than a store-bought mix and can be customized to accommodate your tastes.
- Toasting the spices before grinding into a powder further develops their flavors.
If you’re a fan of chicken salad and curry, this recipe is for you. It’s fragrant, flavorful, and perfectly spiced, and it has the right amount of mayo to bind all the ingredients together while letting the textures of crisp scallions and chewy raisins shine.
There are a lot of curry powder styles to choose from, but Madras curry is one of my favorites. I tested this recipe with a store-bought blend first, and while it was good, I found myself supplementing with additional doses of cumin, coriander, and cayenne, so I decided to make a homemade blend instead
Similar to the way Daniel developed his spice mix for his Japanese curry recipe, I started by studying the ingredient lists of numerous Madras curry powders. Coriander appeared to be the main ingredient, and all of the powders contained turmeric and cumin. Fennel, fenugreek, and mustard showed up consistently, too, while the inclusion of spices like cinnamon, clove, and garlic varied by brand.
After rounds of testing, I upped my measurements for cumin and turmeric, which contribute more depth and earthiness. I also included garlic powder, for added savoriness, and cayenne pepper, for an extra kick. I used whole spices wherever I could and toasted them before grinding, since toasting whole spices will improve their aromas and flavors.
For this recipe, a custom spice blend is definitely worth the effort—it’s fragrant, robust, and easy to adjust based on personal preference. My recipe yields about 1/3 cup of curry powder, which will leave you with a few tablespoons leftover to use however you like. Sprinkle it over popcorn, add it to egg salad, or stir it into stews and sauces (although you may want to think about blooming it in oil first).
While Kenji’s chicken salad involves cooking the chicken breasts sous-vide, I wanted the same results but without the special equipment, so I followed Daniel’s guide to cold-start poaching—basically sous-vide without the plastic bag. I added the chicken to a pot of cold water (no aromatics needed since we’ll be adding plenty of flavor later on), brought it up to 150°F (65°C), and allowed it to cook ever so gently. After about 45 minutes, I was rewarded with ultra juicy and tender meat. I chose to use skinless, boneless chicken breast, but feel free to use whichever cuts you prefer. I’m firmly team shredded chicken when it comes to chicken salad, since the seasoning can really coat each little strand with flavor. I also like how shreds stick together, so if the chicken salad is on a cracker, it doesn’t become a balancing act. But to each their own!
After the curry powder and chicken have been prepared, I make the curry mayo. To complement its warm heat, I add a touch of apricot preserves to contribute a tangy sweetness, before folding in the chicken, scallions, and raisins.
Warm and spicy, bright and fresh, slightly tangy, and perfectly sweet, this curried chicken salad is delicious served as a sandwich or with toast or crackers alongside, or even, of course, all on its own.