(My Kind of) Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad sandwich

Chicken salad is the #1 thing I don’t order at restaurants.

And I think this makes perfect sense.

I mean, first of all, who wants chicken salad when you can get a tomato mozzarella panini or a sandwich with basil pesto or heck, a juicy burger made from locally sourced meat?

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.

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Step One: Roast a Chicken

roast chicken

Step One: Roast a chicken. Use the easiest method known to man—simply drying, trussing, salting, then cooking for an hour, no big deal, barely a blip in your day. Get so excited about this process that you have your picture taken with the bird. (Tell yourself that’s not weird at all.)

Step Two: Share the chicken with a friend for dinner, and share the recipe with everyone you know on your blog. Talk about it, Tweet about it, brag about it over and over again. (Tell yourself that’s not weird at all either.)

3 chickens to roast

Step Three: Because of the serendipity of timing and Twitter and blog connections, have your friend Jacqui over to do the whole thing over again. Times three. Find her at the front door carrying a bag full of snacks and groceries, ready to cook, and thank your lucky stars you know her. (And that she’s someone who gets the excitement of roasting a chicken completely.)

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last monday night (Greek chicken and pitas)

greek chicken and pita

Can I just say I think it’s the best thing ever that I live close enough to my brother that, on a random Monday night before he leaves for a business trip, I can head over to his apartment after work and he can grab some groceries and we can cook together and then eat on his vintage chairs while we watch the latest episode of Friday Night Lights that he saved on his Direct TV for me?

I mean, really, beyond the unusual privilege of being so geographically close to all my family that I can see them—any one of them—any time I want to, how awesome is it that when I text my brother and say, How ’bout I come over tonight?, he responds by saying he’ll buy chicken. That, even more than his ability to laugh at the right part of stories, calm me down in near-death situations like that crazy car accident on the way to Nashville or willingly let me photograph him while he works in the kitchen, shows how well he gets me and, that we’re family.

marinating chickenmarinating chicken

The chicken we made last Monday is nothing fancy. It’s the kind of thing you can assemble while you’re talking and munching on leftovers, marinating the meat for 20 minutes and cooking it on the stove. But it’s also the kind of thing that you could marinate overnight and cook the next day.

chicken in panchicken

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it all started with a bottle of wine (boozy chicken)

chicken

After New Year’s Day’s lunch, I had more than half a bottle of that cheap $5 kind of white wine leftover, along with a bunch of boneless, skinless chicken tenders yet to be cooked, and I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. That was all this was supposed to be, a recipe to use things up, to get rid of what was expiring, but, like some of my favorite friendships or best memories, little did I know what it would become.

Here is how it started: Pulling out my Dutch oven, I laid eight seasoned chicken tenders inside, covering them with a very basic sauce of white wine and vegetable oil; checked them after 45 minutes to stir things around; and, in just over an hour of total baking time, pulled the pan out, the intense and satisfying smell of what I would eventually dub boozy chicken radiating through the kitchen, rich and warm and, pun intended, intoxicating. I’m not a drinker so, as a rule, the scent of alcohol isn’t likely to weaken knees, but people, this was something else.

It was Julia Child who said a good roast chicken is the kind that tastes nice and “chickeny”—and if you’ve ever tasted a well-roasted, seasoned, juicy bird, the kind that’s been turned 45 degrees every 15 minutes for several hours to simulate a rotisserie and, when it emerges from the oven, that’s golden on the outside, with crispy skin giving way to tender, flavorful meat inside, you know exactly what she means. I’d have spent the rest of my life assuming all that labor was the only way to get good roast chicken, the kind of chicken that becomes a base for salads and sandwiches and pasta dishes and anything else that will showcase its Julia-esque chickeny flavor, and I’d have been wrong.

A few bites in, it was all I could do to keep myself from eating piece after tender piece with my fingers, licking the buttery seasonings and smacking my lips together and still, after I ate a few of the tenders plain, things got even better.

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because it’s not about that (chicken with tomatoes and simple salad)

lunch with Kim

I wish I were better at having people over.

Did you know etiquette suggests things like this: “Set the dining table the night before and cover it with a bedsheet [because] it is too nerve-wracking to do this an hour or so before your guests arrive”? I’d like to respectfully suggest that it’s too nerve-wracking to be that well-prepared. I am much more likely to be the person running to the grocery the morning of, picking up a bottle of white wine for the chicken recipe and some Parmesan (scratch that, I grabbed Pecorino) for the salad, laying out a tablecloth and slicing up the bread while also stirring the couscous and snacking on dark chocolate, and then, just when I’m standing over the stove, ready to put the raw chicken in the pan, the doorbell rings.

It’s a funny thing, being reunited with someone who used to know you, after years of living separate lives, and Friday, the first day of 2010, my old roommate Kim was at my door, which I answered with my apron still on, out of breath, hugging her and then leading her to the kitchen. She’d remember better, but I think my first few words were something like, “How are you? Did you have any trouble getting here? So, seriously, how do you catch up with someone you haven’t seen in almost six years? I want to know everything! But first, I have to grab something,” after which, I fell up the stairs.

Thankfully, Kim’s a better sport than an etiquette guidebook would be, and she not only stood right next to me while I pounded chicken cutlets, sauteed garlic in olive oil (then adding tomatoes until they puckered, at which point they’re set aside), added sage leaves and laid the flattened, floured chicken inside the pan in two separate batches, but she also helped, particularly when I added the white wine and tomatoes back into the pan, which sent bursts of steam and sizzle into the already-hot and windowless kitchen and I near panicked at the certain fear I must have been putting in her about lunch. I hate that I get so flustered, but if I had to do it, I am glad it was with her.

chicken with tomatoes

So back to the chicken: I owe the original recipe to Sarah of In Praise of Leftovers, a site I very much love to read, and she had adapted it from a cookbook by Tessa Kiros (the same woman who wrote Falling Cloudberries, whose milk-honey-and-cinnamon ice cream I enjoyed so much).

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Hey, Take a Seat! It’s the Food Loves Writing FAQ!

Sunday lunch

You asked to see my kitchen; I’m giving you a peek. You asked for photo tips; I’m (reluctantly, awkwardly, remembering-there-are-many-much-much-better-authorities-on-this) offering a few. And you wondered how I eat so much without becoming enormous; OK, I’ll take that question on. I’ll even throw in a few recently tested, recently loved recipes at the end.

So what do you say? Got a few minutes for a fun FAQ in the midst of the holiday season? Let’s do this.

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after such a night

lemons and sage

I know things have been pretty pizza and apple tart cake around here this week, and the following story is not going to fit in at all with that model, but I hope you won’t mind if I tell it anyway because, to be honest with you, I had a heck of a night last night. When I came home, pulling out lemon-sage-garlic chicken to reheat in the oven, I thought how perfectly wonderful it is to have home-cooked food to turn to, especially on awful nights like that one, and I figure you probably feel that way too sometimes, so we might as well be open about it.

I’ll start by saying that here in America, we have these really good, really important laws about being authorized to work in the country—laws that are no big deal for natural-born citizens with documentation like birth certificates and social security cards, except when those natural-born citizens lose their documentation, like I did, a couple years ago. Mostly this has been OK since I have a current passport but, come October 14, that passport is expiring, and my current employers want current proof.

So three weeks ago, I applied to get a new passport, filling out all the paperwork and getting new passport photos taken and mailing the whole package of info over to Pennsylvania somewhere via certified mail. They got the package, but I am still waiting.

I also figured I should replace my social security card, just as a backup. It’s free the first time you replace it, did you know that? Go in person to your local social security office, during daytime business hours, and, after filling out more paperwork, request a new card. Perfect. I had this past Monday off, so I planned to go first thing in the morning—until I realized you have to have a birth certificate in order to prove your identity and replace your social security card.

Getting a certified copy of my birth certificate shouldn’t be a big deal, right? After all, they are public record and, can I just say again, I WAS BORN HERE. So I go online to request a certified copy of my birth certificate, one that will hold up for employment verification purposes, and I pay the $43.00 WHERE $20 OF THAT IS JUST SHIPPING CHARGES and the system says it will arrive in a few days.

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