Chicken salad is the #1 thing I don’t order at restaurants.
And I think this makes perfect sense.
But second, and even more importantly, chicken salad is what you call a risky food. Trust me: bad chicken salad is bad. Like, rip-your-mouth-out bad. B-A-D bad. Three years ago, the last time I ordered it in a restaurant that I remember, I was up the whole night afterward, sick. Violently sick. And the next day, when I called the manager of said dining establishment to let him know, he didn’t believe me.
These are the chicken salad memories that haunt me when I look at restaurant menus. These are the lessons I have learned. Blame it on the mayonnaise that coats the salad (hiding all that lurks inside), blame it on poor recipes, blame it on me if you want to, I don’t mind, but listen: order chicken salad somewhere new, and you are a brave, brave soul. Braver than I am.
Now when I have this conversation with people as we’re dining, my eyes alight as I recount Restaurant Debacle 2007, they can start to get the wrong idea. They can take all my fury, all my passion, all my fear of restaurant chicken salad and think that extends to chicken salad period. Oh no, my friends. Not at all.
The truth is, every couple months, I still get a hankering for a homemade chicken salad, but not just any kind. I want the chicken salad where I choose each and every ingredient that goes inside, where instead of mayonnaise there’s a blend of yogurt and olive oil and lemon juice. I want the chicken salad that I’ll eat for days at a time.
For me, this is that chicken salad. The two keys are curry powder and red grapes, both of which you shouldn’t be stingy with. I eat it on crackers, on toasted cinnamon-raisin Ezekiel bread, on sourdough, straight out of the bowl with a big spoon. And the beauty of this chicken salad is you can make it yours simply by adapting it to have more or less of the things you like. Where I pack in the grapes, you may want more chicken. Where I heap in curry, you may leave it out. The important thing is when you make it in your own kitchen, you pick every part of it. And in my opinion, with chicken salad, that’s how it’s got to be.
Curried Chicken Salad (my way)
As I said above, this salad is super adaptable, and though I’m giving you my approximations, feel free to tweak to your liking. There are thousands of chicken salad variations out there: Some people like toasted almonds. Some people add diced apples. The important thing is to add what you like. This is what that means for me.
1 cup cooked chicken, roughly chopped (I like using leftover roasted or grilled)
3/4 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 stem of celery, washed and chopped
3 or 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt
A couple glugs of olive oil
Lots of lemon juice
2 or 3 teaspoons of curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
Put chicken through celery in a bowl and add yogurt and olive oil, stirring until well mixed. Squeeze plenty of lemon juice all over. Add curry powder and stir again. Salt and pepper to taste.