Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Labour of Love. Fit for a Queen. (Begging for Short Cuts.) Coronation Chicken Salad.

When I studied in England, coronation chicken salad was introduced to me as one of the tastiest (albeit occasionally forbidden) sandwich fillings I'd ever tasted. Prior to making its acquaintance, I never really liked chicken salads. Most of them have a mayonnaise base, I dislike mayonnaise intensely, and I don't find chicken a flavorful enough ingredient to mask the mayoness of the mayonnaise saladifying it. (Sometimes I make up words. I'm like Shakespeare that way.) The unequivocal Englishness of something called "coronation chicken", however, was irresistible to me. So I tried it. And I loved it. And thereafter, whenever I happened upon coronation chicken on a menu or in a sandwich case, I would ask if it had nuts (it occasionally did, hence its status as occasionally forbidden) and then promptly devour a hearty portion of it as soon as I was given the go-ahead.

What the heck is coronation chicken salad? Only the best chicken salad ever, invented to be served at Queen Elizabeth's coronation lunch in 1953. According to the Guardian, coronation chicken was first "created by the founder of Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, Rosemary Hume. ... Poulet reine Elizabeth, as it was originally known, was a deliberate and tactful compromise between the luxurious and the thrifty for a country still under the dreary yoke of postwar rationing." It's sort of retro now and a lot of recipes for it floated around the internet around the time of the recent royal wedding.

It's basically like curried chicken salad. Only better, because it is unabashedly, royally sweet, incorporating one or several of the following: apricot preserves, mango chutney, raisins or other dried fruit, and sweet curry powder. And it's bright yellow. Like a mango. Quite pretty really.

I've casually looked for a good coronation chicken salad recipe for the last decade. Some looked like they weren't sweet enough. Others had dauntingly long lists of ingredients (like this one).

citrusy chicken broth

Most called for an amount of mayonnaise I just couldn't stomach.

sauce meets chicken

Then I turned 32. And I got a whole bunch of cookbooks for my birthday. Including one of the kitschiest, funkiest cookbooks I've ever seen - Great British Food, an ode to - you'll never guess - Great British Food, written by the owners of London's Canteen restaurants, devoted to bringing great, accessible, affordable (and localsustainableetcetera) British food to the masses. (I'm not going to waste time here countering the passe notion that British food is awful. It's not awful. It's wonderful. But it was misunderstood for a while. Books like Great British Food and restaurants like Canteen are making it sexier than ever though. This pleases me greatly.)

I suspect it will not surprise you, then, to learn that the first recipe I tackled from the Great British Food cookbook was for coronation chicken. I knew the second I laid eyes on the recipe that I had to try it. There were obstacles though, and that's why it took me nine months. First of all, like some of the recipes I'd seen before, the list of ingredients was endless (twenty-six in all). Second, it called for poaching a whole chicken. A bit much for a curried chicken salad, right?


Finally, it called for 300 mL of mayonnaise. That is well over a cup of mayonnaise. The recipe is supposed to serve only 4-6 people as a main course and also calls for butter, heavy whipping cream, and thick Greek yogurt. While I like me some rich food, my memories of coronation chicken sandwiches didn't involve such heft. I had to lighten it up a bit but was nervous to mess with a recipe from such accomplished, brilliant chefs - chefs who are devoted to making Great British food as Great and British as possible. On the other hand, I thought, condiments are a big deal in Britain, and British kitchens have a thing for odd saucy novelties (salad cream, brown sauce, and bread sauce, to name a few), and I hate condiments generally, so maybe a less-saucy version of coronation chicken would better serve my palate.

I was right. But I learned the hard way.

So. Because, ultimately, it was really damn good, I am going to share with you the recipe as I made it, barely altering the original (really I only reduced the amount of mayo, increased the amount of lemon juice, added a few non-nut garnishes, and converted the British measurements to American ones). But because hindsight is 20-20 and because this dish ended up even richer on the tongue and heavier on the stomach than I'd feared, I have a few suggestions at the bottom of the post that you might consider before serving it for lunch. That said, I really do hope you serve it for lunch. It's spectacular.

Coronation Chicken Salad

Coronation Chicken
Barely adapted from Great British Food (found online here)
Yield: 6-8 as a (sort of) light dish or 4-6 as a (generous) main course

For the poached chicken
1 whole free-range chicken (~4 lbs)*
1 inch piece fresh root ginger, sliced (or 1 heaping tablespoon jarred ginger)
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/2 orange, sliced
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 whole bulb garlic, halved horizontally (no need to peel it)
1 star anise
10 whole black peppercorns
Salt and ground black pepper

For the sauce
1/2 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped (or jarred) ginger
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons sweet curry powder
6 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup currants, raisins, or chopped dried apricots or cherries
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup mango chutney
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons)
3/4 cup thick Greek yogurt (nonfat is fine)

For serving
Lettuce or bread
Toasted almonds or coconut
Diced apple

1. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper (stuff it with the lemon rinds from your lemon juice if you've already prepped your sauce ingredients). Place it in a huge saucepan. Add the rest of the poaching ingredients and pour in about a quart of water to cover. Put the lid on the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Cook for an hour. Remove from the heat and leave the chicken in the broth until cool enough to handle.

2. Remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the poaching liquid into a clean pan. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to 2.5 cups. Reserve this reduced stock.**

3. Pull the skin from the chicken and discard. Remove the meat, discarding bones and gristle, and tear into thick strips. Set aside in the fridge while you prepare the sauce.

4. Sweat the onion, garlic, and ginger in the butter on medium heat for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the curry powder and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring, then mix in the flour to make a roux. Add the reduced stock** and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Stir in the cream. Pass through a fine sieve, then add the dried fruit and allow to cool.***

5. Using a handheld immersion blender or a regular blender, mix the mayonnaise, mango chutney, lemon juice, and Greek yogurt until well blended. Combine this with the curry sauce base until well mixed.*** Add the cooked chicken, toss to coat, cover, and chill.****

6. Serve the chicken salad on a bed of lettuce with some of the garnishes listed above, or as a sandwich filling on a mild-flavored, sturdy white or wheat bread.

Okay. Here's the deal:

* I think the chicken could be increased by fifty percent. Next time, I will poach two chickens and use as much of it as needed to make a somewhat lightly-dressed chicken salad. (Note to self: get a pan that will accommodate two whole chickens.) (Super short cut: use 3 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, poached for 20 minutes instead of an hour.)

**I do not think the reduced poaching liquid is integral to the success of this recipe, particularly because the sauce is so thick. I wouldn't bother reducing the poaching liquid again. I'd simply reserve 2.5 cups of the broth once the chicken has cooled and proceed with the recipe as written.

*** I don't think the onion, garlic, and ginger used in the curry base should be discarded. Next time, I'm going to hold off on adding the dried fruit to the warm curry base; I'll blend the curry base with all the other sauce ingredients and then stir in the dried fruit, right before dressing the chicken.

**** I added some chopped scallions and diced celery with the chicken. I'm American and I like a crunch in my chicken salad.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Simple End-of-Summer Condiments: Roasted Tomato + Oregano Salsa and Herbed Mustard Vinaigrette

Hi. Though it probably hasn't seemed like it if you've been checking this site at all, I am here and alive and eating plenty. I've been cooking a fair amount too. But, as frequently happens towards the end of summer, there's not a great deal of creativity to what I'm making. As the pounds of zucchini and corn and tomatoes and cucumbers accumulate, I stick to the tried and true. (Yes. Those all link to the recipes featured elsewhere on this site that are making a big comeback here a year later.) In my effort to not waste the fresh herbs I've been getting before they wilt and decay (in the plastic bags that I'm sure cut against their long-term survival), I've been chopping them finely and throwing them into salsas, dressings, eggs, tortilla fillings (I made flautas!), and - in a rare moment of ambition - a brine I used to pickle green beans, inspired by Lottie + Doof's escabeche recipe. My two recent favorites are both simple and versatile - a good combination, likely why I've been making them repeatedly since we returned from our August vacation.

The first one: Roasted Tomato + Oregano Salsa. Good with tortilla chips, Mexican food, and eggs... but also REALLY good on grilled chicken or baked salmon, slathered onto a slice of bread or crackers and topped with some thinly-sliced veggies and feta, or even tossed with some pasta and parmesan. It's really good. Just don't skimp on the herbs. Or the salt. Did I mention it's good with tortilla chips?

Roasted Tomato + Oregano Salsa

The second one: Herbed Mustard Vinaigrette. Here's why this one is especially special to yours truly (and oh-so-specially). I don't really do mustard. I don't hate it hate it. Meaning, it's not as bad as the superbads in my book: wasabi, horseradish, goat cheese, to name a few. It's more like green olives or Italian parsley - well-concealed, on a good day, after my taste buds are a bit numb from drinking irresponsibly or overindulging in sugar, I can handle a little. I like dry mustard as a general flavor enhancer and I throw a little dijon in my egg and tuna salads for what I consider "depth". But this dressing really complicates my whole relationship with mustard. It's fairly mustard-forward in its flavor profile, and I can taste that, and I know I shouldn't love it, because I would hate it on a burger or a pretzel... but I do. I just love it. Like, totally. I make it three times a week in the summer and dress lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and blanched green beans with it over and over again. Curious indeed.

Mustard of choiceMustard Vinaigrette

Here are the recipes. I hope you find them as simple and versatile and yummy as I do. And I hope your weather is as lovely as ours has been lately.

Roasted Tomato + Oregano Salsa
Adapted from Epicurious
Yield: about 2-3 cups

1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced (don't peel, seed, or drain; liquid will evaporate in oven)
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium shallot or 2-3 scallions or 1/4 red onion, finely diced
1 small white onion, finely diced
1 small jalapeño, cored, seeded and minced (use half if you don't like much spice)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

Heat oven to 400°F. Cover a baking tray with foil. Spread diced tomatoes on tray; drizzle with one teaspoon olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Bake until lightly browned and slightly dry, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and toss tomatoes with shallots or scallions or red onion, white onion, jalapeño, garlic and oregano in a bowl. Drizzle an additional teaspoon olive oil over top and serve. This is excellent at room temperature but lasts for at least four days in the refrigerator. (Cautionary note: it gets spicier over time.)

Herbed Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from an old Cooking Light annual cookbook (2003 maybe?)
Yield: enough for a side salad for 4 or main salad for 2; easily doubled

1 small (or 1/2 a large) red onion, thinly sliced or diced (a young red onion or shallot is ideal)
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil*
1 teaspoon dried parsley or marjoram
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil (or use half flax seed oil)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Whisk everything together. Toss cucumbers, tomatoes, al dente green beans, or a mixture, and allow veggies to marinate in vinaigrette for an hour or so (veggies will last for a few days in refrigerator and are even tastier on day 2 or 3). Alternatively, use as a salad dressing.

*Again, think versatile. Feel to throw in a handful of whatever other herbs you have on hand, e.g. chives, tarragon, parsley or oregano.

P.S. Today my parents celebrate 41 years of marriage. That is v. nearly FOREVER. Well done, mom and dad. Congratulations and much love from our little fam in Minneapolis.