Smoked Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Oh man, it's been five years since I last made a chicken salad. That kind of boggles my mind because that last recipe for a smoked chicken salad was a real winner, and I enjoyed having leftovers in the house for a few days to make easy lunches and snacks. After making that recipe too, I had all these ideas for different types of chicken salad that I left unrealized until recently when I decided to make this smoked curried chicken salad.
Now I know curried chicken salad isn't revolutionary or anything—it seems to be readily available at many delis—but I had this flavor combination in my head of an earthy and lightly spicy salad contrasted by a sweet tamarind chutney and tart apple slices and imagined it would make a killer sandwich. So I acted upon my initial idea and started this recipe off by making the tamarind chutney which was comprised of water, tamarind concentrate, jaggery (an Indian dark brown sugar), and some spices that simmered together until thick and syrupy. These are all common ingredients at Indian groceries and are worth picking up to make the most flavorful chutney that's way better than the watery and dull versions that I've encountered at a few restaurants.
At the same time I was making this recipe, I was also doing one for Buffalo chicken jalapeño poppers, where the smoked chicken was going to have to survive being cooked twice. Because of that, I opted for the insurance policy of brining, infusing the lean breast meat with added moisture. If I was making this chicken salad on its own, I don't think I would have spent the effort on this step since just being sure not to overcook the meat would have been good enough, but since I used brined chicken, I kept it in the final version so you can end up with the same excellent results I did.
After brining, I patted the chicken dry with paper towels and began the smoking. A little wood goes a long way with light meats like chicken breasts, so I opted to only add one chunk of mellow apple wood to the fire before starting the cooking process.
Running at 225°F, the meat took about one and half hours to get to its final internal temperature of 145°F. If you adhere to food safety guidelines and are concerned a bit about pulling the chicken before it reaches the prescribed 165°F, take some comfort in that, at a lower temperature, it just takes longer for nasty bacteria to die, so with proper resting time, your chicken should be just as safe to eat and also be way juicier.
Once the chicken was rested and cool enough to handle, I pulled away the browned and smoky skin and began pulling the meat for the salad. I personally like the texture of pulled chicken salad over chopped, but if you're the opposite, go ahead and remove the entire breast from the bone and cube it up—the recipe will be no less delicious and also will take a little less time.
Like your run-of-the-mill chicken salad, mayonnaise served as the base of the dressing here, but curry powder added a very strong defining flavor. I kind of wished I had made my own curry powder since this stuff is not a singular thing—each bag and brand can have its own unique flavor. The curry powder I had picked up at the Indian grocery actually had a stronger earthy and more pungent flavor that I was hoping for, although it still tasted good, as I imagine most curry powders would. To round out the flavor of the dressing, I also also a bit of cumin and lemon juice.
Of course, chicken salad needs some mix-ins, and to go along with the curried flavor of the dressing, I added celery for some crunch, raisins for sweetness, and scallions for a light oniony touch.
To complete the salad portion, I combined the chicken, dressing, and mix-ins and stirred them all until everything was well combined. I then transferred the salad to an airtight container and placed it in the fridge to allow it to completely chill before assembling the sandwiches.
I waited to peel and slice the apples until it was time to serve, since they're prone to browning. I used Granny Smith for their tartness and utilized my mandoline to make quick work of creating even, thin slices.
The sandwiches you see in these photos would not have been my normal output. On the day I made these, I was hosting a cocktail party themed cookout, so to fit in the menu better, I took a tea sandwich type of approach and removed the crusts on some soft white sandwich bread, then added on the chicken salad, apple slices, and a spread of tamarind chutney. I then cut those already small sandwiches into fourths to create tiny, bite-sized portions fitting for the cocktail theme.
Size isn't going to really impact flavor though, and these sandwiches had an immense amount. They really came together exactly as I had imagined starting with a chicken salad with smoky and juicy meat that was well matched by the tangy, pungent, and earthy curried dressing along with the crunch of the celery and bursts of sweetness created by raisins. Those flavors were well served by using a savory and sweet tamarind chutney as the condiment, while tart and crisp apple slices were really the icing on the cake to bring the entire thing together. After making this salad, I still can't fathom why it took me so long to get to it, but I'll be sure not to let another five years pass until I make my next chicken salad creation.
Smoked Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 1 Hour
- Inactive 3 Hours 30 Minutes
- Cook 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- Total 6 Hours
- For the Tamarind Chutney
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
- 1 cup jaggery or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black salt or Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- For the Chicken Salad
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1/3 cup Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 3 lbs bone-in chicken breasts
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2/3 cup finely diced celery
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup finely sliced scallions
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Sandwiches
- 12 slices of white sandwich bread
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
- To make the tamarind chutney: Heat water over medium-high heat until just boiling. Add in tamarind concentrate and stir until completely incorporated. Add in jaggery, salt, cayenne, cumin, and ginger. Stir until sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened to a syrupy consistency, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use or up to 1 month.
- To make the chicken salad: In a medium bowl, whisk together water, salt, and sugar until solids are dissolved. Place chicken breasts in brine and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunk of smoking wood when at temperature. When wood is ignited and producing smoke, place chicken in smoker or grill, skin side up. Smoke until an instant read thermometer reads 145°F when inserted into thickest part of breast, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from smoker and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Remove skin and pull meat. Discard bones.
- Whisk together mayonnaise, curry powder, lemon juice, and cumin in a large bowl. Add in pulled chicken, celery, raisins, and scallions and mix to evenly distribute ingredients and coat chicken in dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer chicken salad to an airtight container and refrigerate until completely chilled or up to 3 days.
- To assemble sandwiches: Spread a layer of chicken salad on a slices of bread and top with a few apple slices. Spread a layer of tamarind chutney on another slice of bread and place on top of chicken salad side of sandwich. Repeat with remaining bread and ingredients. Serve immediately.
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