We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chicken Curry Salad

by Michelle

   Located at Tanque Verde High School in Tucson, there is a special antique fair which takes place on the first Sunday of every month—rain or shine. Over 100 vendors set up across the concrete corridors and patios of the institution. They line up in neat rows on the grassy soccer field, and also cram inside the auditorium leaving just enough room for shoppers to pass each other with a little bit of a squeeze and a purse tuck. I was a devoted attendee of this fair for many years, patiently searching through the "junk", as my husband refers to it, to find a future prized possession. My much loved routine began with a friend and our two daughters. We would head east early on the Sunday morning of the fair to begin our treasure hunt—much to the chagrin of our spouses.
   There among the flea market fare and dusty items, a seeker of collectibles can delight in the hunt for all things bric-à-brac, as well as Mexican retablos, Italian trays, Asian artifacts, Tiffany vases, carved statues, vintage tools, kitchen wares, patio furniture, rocking chairs, copper molds, new and old jewelry, 1950s Christmas ornaments, knives, belt buckles, chandeliers, garden knickknacks, leather purses, cowboy boots, vintage cast iron and velvet skirts. There are thousands of disparate items offered for sale, which are displayed on tables, on the ground and in the back of pick-up trucks. Some vendors merchandise quite beautifully, but most do not. It is the type of venue where one might find a framed Renoir sold for ten dollars just because the seller thought it was a copy, but the buyer had an inkling that it might be something more than just a pretty painting in a crappy frame.

These are the spices in our homemade curry powder.
     Usually by late morning we were reveling in our "finds" and thinking ahead to our next stop—lunch. Nine times out of ten we'd head to AJ's Fine Foods, a specialty grocery chain with a location at La Encantada, an outdoor mall nestled in the foothills, that is optimally situated to afford visitors fine views of the city and the dazzling Catalina mountains. The market offers a variety of foods, including a bakery counter, sushi bar, pizzeria, and extensive delicatessen with both hot entrées, cold salads, and sandwiches made to order.
  On weekends, the market fires up an outdoor grill and offers a simple menu that includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches with a toppings bar. Our girls would line up for pizza or order hamburgers outside, while we ladies more often than not ordered the chicken curry salad. After we paid at the register, we'd carry all the food to the huge patio and snag an empty table where we leisurely ate our meal outdoors—happy to sit a spell and enjoy the view of the city of Tucson. In the winter, in addition to the cityscape, a leaping gas fire blazed in the imposing stone fireplace.
   Refreshed after our busy morning, we would make the rounds to the shops, which include a variety of brand name kitchen stores and designer apparel shops. Our favorite shopping experience, for adults and kids alike, is the unparalleled dream-like world of Anthropologie. This whimsically-themed store features unique displays carefully crafted to capture our imaginations. The thematic experience also includes hip music for our listening pleasure, and gorgeous clothes to swoon over. And even though the kids would grumble, we always stopped by J. Jill, which bored them to distraction and sometimes even to tears. If we were having the same outings today, we could send our teenagers next door to the Apple Store to be captivated by technology.

My husband prefers an open faced sandwich. I choose to forgo the bread.
   Occasionally, in an idle moment after the antique fair outing, I would mentally deconstruct AJ's chicken curry salad to consider how I would approach replicating the dish at home. I determined the salad must be fairly straightforward to make. The reasoning is simple. Delis generate profits by churning out easy to prepare recipes day in, day out. I challenged myself not to overthink it. Then, one fine morning, I opened the food section of the Arizona Republic and there, in response to a reader's request, was AJ's recipe printed in black and white. Sure enough, the dressing is simply a combination of mayonnaise, honey, curry powder, salt and pepper. What stopped me in my tracks was the honey. It seemed obvious in retrospect that I should have caught that ingredient on my own without reading about it first. And, since I mentioned honey, I'd like to refer you to an excellent article I recently read about the benefits of honey, "Does It Matter If A Sweetner Is Natural?".
   Only the curry powder left a question in my mind. Commercial preparations can vary widely in quality and taste, and the recipe did not specify a brand. I solved this variable by making my own high-quality curry powder, which is easy and fun to do. If you go with purchasing curry powder, make sure it is mild (not spicy), and that tumeric is not the first ingredient listed.
   In the cookbook, A New Way To Cook (Artison, ©2001), author Sally Schneider writes, "When I do stumble across a decent commercial curry powder, usually at an Indian food market or from a fine spice store like Penzey's, I note that invariably, the list of spices on the label begins with either coriander or cumin seeds. I have found that turmeric is usually the main ingredient in inferior curry powders. This inexpensive, rather one-dimensional spice with an appealing yellow color is often used to extend more expensive ones."
   The recipe calls for baked, roasted or poached chicken. Normally, poached chicken is the accepted standard for salad preparations involving a mayonnaise-based dressing. Poaching keeps the chicken tender and moist. Although I am a dark meat fan, for Chicken Curry Salad I prefer white meat. In the last year, my husband, Jay began grilling boneless chicken breasts over indirect heat, which retains moisture in the meat. As an added benefit, grilling keeps the heat and clean-up out of my kitchen, making this a perfect dish for a casual summer meal.

Chicken Curry Salad

   Wonderful eaten as a sandwich filling between thick slices of lightly toasted challah bread, or over greens, or with just a fork. Yum! This recipe is adapted from AJ's Fine Foods.

5 chicken breasts on the bone (with fat), baked, roasted or poached and cooled
5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2-1/4 pounds)
about 2 tsps of homemade curry powder or quality store bought curry powder
about 1-1/2 Tbsps olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-1/4 cups good quality mayonnaise, or homemade Paleo Aïoli
1/2 cup raw and unfiltered runny honey
about 1-1/2 tsps homemade curry powder or quality store bought curry powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1/3 cup scallions, both white and green parts, sliced thin into rounds
1/2 celery (about 2 small to medium stalks), finely diced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews

Freshly toasted curry spices are destined for a coffee grinder
to be ground into a powder. I have a second grinder for this task.
1. Mix mayonnaise, honey, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add more curry powder if necessary for a full flavor. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow flavors to develop.
2. For bone-in breasts: Remove bones and fat from chicken breasts that have been baked, roasted, or poached and cooled. Cut into bite sized pieces. Add scallions, celery, raisins, cashews and apples. Immediately mix in dressing and incorporate well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow flavors to develop.
3. To grill boneless breasts: In a small bowl combine the 2 teaspoons of curry powder with a big glug of olive oil. Stir. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and then use your fingers to evenly distribute the curry oil on all sides. You can refrigerate the breasts for several hours until ready to cook, or move on with the recipe. 
   Before grilling, let the chicken sit on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes so the breasts will warm up a bit and cook evenly. Clean your grill gates with a bristle brush to remove any sludge that might be sticking to the hot grill. Chicken is notoriously difficult to cook on the grill. Boneless chicken breasts, in particular, are easy to overcook resulting in dry meat that is practically inedible. We overcome this problem by cooking chicken over indirect heat.  Here's how:
   We have a five burner gas grill, but a charcoal grill works just as well. For a charcoal grill, after the coals are hot, simply turn the coals out in a pile to one side of the grill, instead of distributing the coals in an even layer. Over high heat, sear the chicken for 3 minutes on each side. After the chicken is seared on each side, the chicken is moved to the cooler side of the grill, and will continue to cook via indirect heat. For the gas grill, the burners directly under the chicken, are turned off. The burners that are located adjacent to the chicken, those burners remain on high. 
   After searing the chicken on both sides, grill breasts for another 6 minutes per side (on the non-heated side of the grill), with the lid closed. Cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. Remove the chicken to a tray or a plate and immediately cover with aluminum foil. After 10 minutes, remove the foil and allow the chicken to cool to room temperature. Indirect grilling is now our favorite method of cooking both beef and chicken.  the method helps to keep the meat moist.   
   Cut the breasts into bite sized pieces. Add scallions, celery, raisins, cashews and apples. Immediately mix in dressing and incorporate well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow flavors to develop. Yield: about 5 cups

On the luncheon menu to celebrate a beautiful spring day in 2008 were an assortment of refreshing make-ahead cold entrees such as Chicken Curry Salad,
 Michelle's Big Bowl Pasta SaladGreek Orzo Salad and a mixed fruit salad. 
While the ladies made the rounds on the lunch buffet, you can spot me outside putting the 
finishing touches on the dessert buffet, which included my homemade tea cakes and a
"make your own" tart bar featuring lime curd, lemon curd and orange curd. 
Overwhelming, and by a wide margin, the lime curd was the favorite filling.
My friend captured me in the moment while I was wrestling with a stubborn cork
stuck in a bottle of Frexenet. I eventually showed it whose boss.
The kids swarmed the dessert table upon arrival, excited to preview their favorite course
of the day. I waited until just before serving time to present the trio of citrus curds, mixed berries and whipped cream for the tart bar. To the thrill of our guests, the vanilla flavored
whipped cream was dispensed from an Isi Whip-It!. The kids thought it was the best thing ever. 

P.S. We invite you to "like" us and to join the conversation on our Salvation Sisters Facebook Page where we post what we find and like from around the wide, wide, world of the internet. As always, we'd love to hear from you, whether you post in comments here on the blog or on Facebook. Ciao!


  1. How do I get the ingredients for your homemade curry powder? Thank you.

  2. Hi Elizabeth... there is a link in the ingredients list to the curry powder recipe. I tried it, and it works for me, but if it is a non-functioning link for you (which oddly, can happen), then you can either access the recipe by typing "curry powder" in the "search this blog" field, or alternatively you can scroll down to the labels list on the right side of the blog and click on "curry". Lastly, you can perform a Google search for "Salvation Sisters Curry Powder" which will provide a direct link to the recipe. I hope this helps. Making the homemade curry powder is totally worth the effort. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Happy cooking.... Michelle


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