Why It Works
- Starting the chicken in room-temperature water and then cooking it at a gentle heat keeps the flesh tender and juicy.
- A homemade blend of spices delivers deeper, fresher flavors than a store-bought mix and can be customized to accommodate your tastes.
- Toasting the spices before grinding into a powder further develops their flavors.
If you’re a fan of chicken salad and curry powder spice mixes, this recipe is for you. It’s fragrant, flavorful, and perfectly spiced, and it has the right amount of mayo to bind all the ingredients together while letting the textures of crisp scallions and chewy raisins shine.
There are a lot of curry powder styles to choose from, but Madras curry is one of my favorites. I tested this recipe with a store-bought blend first, and while it was good, I found myself supplementing with additional doses of cumin, coriander, and cayenne, so I decided to make a homemade blend instead
Similar to the way Daniel developed his spice mix for his Japanese curry recipe, I started by studying the ingredient lists of numerous Madras curry powders. Coriander appeared to be the main ingredient, and all of the powders contained turmeric and cumin. Fennel, fenugreek, and mustard showed up consistently, too, while the inclusion of spices like cinnamon, clove, and garlic varied by brand.
After rounds of testing, I upped my measurements for cumin and turmeric, which contribute more depth and earthiness. I also included garlic powder, for added savoriness, and cayenne pepper, for an extra kick. I used whole spices wherever I could and toasted them before grinding, since toasting whole spices will improve their aromas and flavors.
For this recipe, a custom spice blend is definitely worth the effort—it’s fragrant, robust, and easy to adjust based on personal preference. My recipe yields about 1/3 cup of curry powder, which will leave you with a few tablespoons leftover to use however you like. Sprinkle it over popcorn, add it to egg salad, or stir it into stews and sauces (although you may want to think about blooming it in oil first).
While Kenji’s chicken salad involves cooking the chicken breasts sous-vide, I wanted the same results but without the special equipment, so I followed Daniel’s guide to cold-start poaching—basically sous-vide without the plastic bag. I added the chicken to a pot of cold water (no aromatics needed since we’ll be adding plenty of flavor later on), brought it up to 150°F (65°C), and allowed it to cook ever so gently. After about 45 minutes, I was rewarded with ultra juicy and tender meat. I chose to use skinless, boneless chicken breast, but feel free to use whichever cuts you prefer. I’m firmly team shredded chicken when it comes to chicken salad, since the seasoning can really coat each little strand with flavor. I also like how shreds stick together, so if the chicken salad is on a cracker, it doesn’t become a balancing act. But to each their own!
After the curry powder and chicken have been prepared, I make the curry mayo. To complement its warm heat, I add a touch of apricot preserves to contribute a tangy sweetness, before folding in the chicken, scallions, and raisins.
Warm and spicy, bright and fresh, slightly tangy, and perfectly sweet, this curried chicken salad is delicious served as a sandwich or with toast or crackers alongside, or even, of course, all on its own.
- For the Madras Spice Blend:
- 1 tablespoon (8g) cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon (5g) coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon (8g) ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon (1g) garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- For the Poached Chicken and Chicken Salad:
- 2 quarts (2L) room-temperature water
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (19g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided; if using table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1 1/2 pounds (680g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4 medium breast halves)
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces; 112g) mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought (in this case, preferably Hellmann’s)
- 2 tablespoons (38g) apricot preserves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (8g) Madras Spice Blend
- 1/4 cup (36g) golden raisins
- 1/4 cup (24g) thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only
For the Madras Spice Blend: In a small skillet, combine cumin, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, peppercorns, and mustard seeds. Over medium heat, stir and swirl the spices until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer whole spices to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Empty into a small bowl and combine with turmeric, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
For the Poached Chicken: In a large saucepan, combine water and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (15g) salt and stir to dissolve. Add chicken and set over medium-high heat until water temperature reaches between 150 and 160°F (65-70°C) on an instant-read thermometer; adjust heat to maintain water temperature in the 150–160°F range. (It's okay if the temperature bounces around a little, but try to keep it above 150 and below 170°F.) Cook until thickest part of chicken registers 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Shred chicken and set aside.
For the Chicken Salad: In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, apricot preserves, Madras spice blend, and 1 teaspoon (4g) salt. Add chicken, raisins, and scallions and fold with a rubber spatula until well combined. Serve.
Fenugreek seeds (also sold as methi seeds) can be found online or at specialty spice stores. This fragrant spice has a rich and nutty flavor that is similar to maple syrup.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Madras Spice Blend can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months at cool room temperature. Store away from light and heat.
Refrigerate chicken salad in an airtight container for up to 5 days.