Chinois Curried Chicken Salad Recipe
Chinois Curried Chicken Salad

By Wolfgang Puck

"I miss your curried chicken salad."

You'd be surprised how often I've heard that from guests at my Chinois on Main restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif. -- and how much an unusual compliment like that can mean to a chef. (Or maybe you, too, love to hear such comments from friends and family.)

My Chinois Curried Chicken Salad, which still sometimes appears on the menu, won the hearts and stomachs of so many people for a very simple reason: It presents bold yet well-balanced flavors along with an appealing variety of colors and textures.

But there is an even more important reason why the salad is so successful, a reason I will be brave enough to reveal here now: Chicken can be bland. There, I said it.

One of the reasons so many people like chicken, however, is that when it's cooked properly, that blank canvas can turn into a beautiful culinary composition. Season the chicken well and imaginatively, and it becomes sensational.

Unfortunately, most traditional chicken salads aren't well seasoned, consisting of just cooked chicken, mayonnaise, and -- if the cook is feeling really creative -- some lemon juice, parsley, and salt. No wonder the mention of chicken salad can make some spirits sag.

My version puts a fresh and lively spin on that old concept. Diced red onion and yellow and red bell peppers, plus chopped cilantro, really brighten the color and flavor, and freshly squeezed lime juice adds tangy zest to the mayonnaise dressing.

But the real magic comes from curry powder, the traditional Indian spice blend you can find in the seasonings aisle of any market. My secret for coaxing the maximum flavor out of it is to toast the powder briefly in a dry skillet over low heat, which helps to release its full aromatic power. In concert with the other ingredients, the spices will make a noticeable yet surprisingly subtle impact on each bite.

For the chicken, precooked rotisserie birds from the supermarket work well. So does leftover roasted, sauteed, or grilled chicken.

Feel free to vary the salad by adding other favorite vegetables. Use milder or stronger curry powders to your taste. And add fruit, such as diced apple, mango, whole seedless grapes, or raisins; or toasted nuts. Or stir a big spoonful of sweet mango chutney into the mixture.

There are also many ways to serve the salad. Mound it on mixed greens, or eat it taco-style inside leaves of radicchio or iceberg or romaine lettuce. Spoon onto bite-sized rice crackers or into Belgian endive spears for an appetizer. Or prepare the best chicken-salad sandwiches ever.

Once you've made the recipe your own, you'll never have to miss curried chicken salad again!

Chinois Curried Chicken Salad Recipe

Serves 6

1 pound boneless, organic skinless cooked chicken, dark meat, white meat, or a mixture

1/2 medium-sized red onion

1/2 medium-sized organic red bell pepper

1/2 medium-sized organic yellow bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2-1/2 tablespoons water

1 lime, juiced

1 tablespoon curry powder

Salt

Mixed baby salad greens or Asian-style rice crackers, for serving

With a sharp knife, cut the chicken into cubes measuring about 1/2 inch on a side. Transfer to a nonreactive mixing bowl, taking care to remove any traces of bone, skin, or connective tissue.

Cut the red onion into 1/4-inch dice and add them to the bowl.

Cut out the stems and remove the seeds and veins from the red and yellow bell peppers. Add them to the bowl along with the chopped cilantro, mayonnaise, water, and lime juice.

Put the curry powder in a small, dry, nonstick skillet. Stir over low heat just until the spice turns aromatic and darkens in color just slightly, watching carefully to make sure it doesn't burn.

Immediately transfer the curry powder to the bowl with the other ingredients. Stir well, until the ingredients are well mixed and evenly coated. Adjust the seasonings to taste with a little salt, stirring it in thoroughly.

Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. If serving chilled from the refrigerator, taste and adjust the seasonings again, if necessary, just before serving.

To serve as individual salad portions, arrange mixed baby salad greens on chilled plates and mound the curried chicken salad on top. To serve as an appetizer, spoon onto bite-sized Asian rice crackers.

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Recipes: "Chinois Curried Chicken Salad"

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