Chicken salad for the haters

Hi. It’s me, one of those people who hates chicken salad. Haters will say it’s fake, but I like this sandwich!

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Read Time: 5 minutes

I’ll just say it. I have never liked chicken salad. I don’t like any of those mayonnaise-based salad options like potato, egg, or chicken. The only salads that I typically eat are the kind with green leaf lettuce, arugula or potentially some jello.

My chicken salad issues mainly lie with the variable consistency from gloopy mayonnaise that you are often faced with. But it doesn’t stop there, occasionally you’ll stumble across a chicken salad with hard-boiled eggs in them and those are also on my do not hit list.

My mom’s curried chicken ball recipe from the cookbook she released quite a few years ago.

Things I don’t particularly like about chicken salad

  • It’s sometimes too heavy on mayo for my taste.
  • The texture is often just soft, with very little variety.
  • I don’t like hard-boiled eggs.

BUT the sandwich I’m writing about today isn’t a made from a mayonnaise-based chicken salad. It’s based on a recipe I stole from my mom’s cookbook for something called curried chicken balls and it’s flavorful and super tasty. It’s similar to chicken salad without being the mayonnaise-based version because it’s built around cream cheese and curry spicing.

Chicken salad just isn’t consistent from restaurant to restaurant or potluck to potluck. I can’t trust it. My wife says most chicken salad she’s encountered in restaurants doesn’t have hard boiled eggs, but some do! So, I can’t trust it!

BUT I can trust this curry chicken salad.

Why am I even making chicken salad for chicken salad haters?

The main reason for getting to this point of me trying to make chicken salad was because I wanted to make croissants and chicken salad is one of the more common fillings for croissant sandwiches. Sure, I could have made ham and cheese and I love a ham croissant, but I wanted to push my boundaries a little and see what I can make.

The croissants

First, we need some flaky bread rolls. Let’s make some.

This croissant recipe I used is another King Arthur Baking recipe. If you wonder why I use their bread recipes so often, it’s because not only do you get recipes with good instructions and helpful photos, but you also sometimes get an accompanying blog post (like this one for croissants) that gets really deep into specifics with even more instructional photos and help.

Also: The King Arthur Baking comment sections on their blog posts and recipes are usually fantastic with folks asking good questions and receiving useful replies from King Arthur employees.

Lamination

Croissants are made from stacked layers and layers of cold butter and dough. The process of arranging the dough and butter into these layers is called lamination and if you’ve ever used or seen a lamination machine in use, the name starts to make a sense.

Biscuit making has a similar process of creating layers with dough and butter in such a way that it will leave behind pockets in the bread during the baking process. Croissants are just layered or laminated with a whole lot more butter in a much more consistent pattern. The desire in both baked goods is to have the butter create space that will be empty when it has melted into the fully cooked bread.

The diamond in the middle of this gif is almost 4 sticks of unsalted butter. I think that’s like a daily serving, right?
Croissants rolled and shaped, ready for the final proof.

The croissant-ing process is mostly a labor of love. To be honest, if you have experience using dough and weighing out ingredients on a gram scale, you can make croissants. It’s not that hard, it just requires a lot of: do this and then refrigerate for 30 minutes. And then you do the same thing over again, making layers.

So basically, if you have a free weekend morning or a free afternoon, you can pull off the difficult work just fine.

After my brief experience with shaping croissants, I will say that it’s EASY to make croissants if you have time and are patient. But it’s REALLY HARD to make perfect croissants. My croissants obviously aren’t perfectly beautiful but also, I’ve learned that even an ugly croissant tastes fantastic.

Even an ugly croissant has beautiful potential.

Amateur biscuit cook, Jonathan Surratt
The King Arthur croissant recipe makes 24 croissants, but the nice part is that you can bake 12 and then leave the second part of the dough in your fridge until you’re ready to bake the second batch.
A croissant gets layers and air pockets like this because you laminate A LOT of butter inside thin sheets of dough. When things are rolled up and baked, the water in the butter disappears and leaves behind flaky layers.

This recipe makes the equivalent of 24 sandwich sized croissants. But the dough spends some time in the refrigerator prior to the final shaping and baking, which means you can postpone baking until the time that you are ready. For example, in my most recent batch, I split the dough in half and baked 12 on a Saturday and then the second 12 on the following Sunday. I’m not totally sure how many days you could hold the dough in the fridge, but I would imagine it would be ok for 4 or 5 days at least.

When you really look hard, this is an ugly croissant. It was from my first batch, and it still tasted fantastic. Tastes even better when you baked it.
More close-ups on the flaky pockets inside homemade croissants.

Coronation or jubilee chicken?

When I made croissants I asked on Twitter what I should put on croissant sandwiches. The majority of real, non-silly answers were: chicken salad. But one of my Twitter followers said “coronation chicken.” And that’s the first time I had heard that phrase.

So, I looked it up, and then I realized that I might have found my mom’s curry chicken balls origin story. Wikipedia says that coronation chicken (also known as Poulet Reine Elizabeth) got its official name in 1953 at a banquet in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to this, there was another chicken dish that was chicken mixed with mayonnaise and curry that was known by many as jubilee chicken.

Le Cordon Bleu, a well-known culinary institute, has some Poulet Reine Elizabeth history as well as a recipe for coronation chicken that has been updated to a more modern version. This just shows that curry powder in some sort of version of chicken salad is well established in culinary history.

Toast it

Toasting your croissant is a key factor to bring the bread back to life after it’s a couple of days old. Without any preservatives, a homemade croissant will be good for at least a week, but after the first day or so the bread becomes much less crispy and flaky. A quick stint in a toaster oven or regular oven at 350 degrees F (176 C) or less will bring that croissant right back to life.

A short ride through the toaster will not bring the croissant back to perfection that is the day of baking, but it freshens the croissant up quite a bit.

The curry chicken anti-chicken salad sandwich recipe

Here’s my curry chicken salad croissant sandwich recipe that even the haters should try. Maybe you’re not a baker, but you should still buy croissants and bring this sandwich to fruition.

Curry chicken salad croissant view printable page for this recipe

This is my chicken salad sandwich recipe for people who hate chicken salad. The lack of mayonnaise makes it much more palatable for me and the creaminess is still there with the curry spiced cream cheese.

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by Jonathan Surratt

Ingredients:

Curry chicken salad
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1.5 pounds chicken breast pieces (or 3 cups of cooked chicken)
  • salt and black pepper
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons diced celery
  • 3 tablespoons diced onion
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 12 cup halved red grapes (optional)
Sandwich assembly
  • 4 to 6 croissants
  • green leaf lettuce
  • tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • curry chicken salad

Directions:

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium-large pan over medium high heat.

Once the olive oil starts to shimmer, salt and pepper both sides of your chicken and place it in the pan. Cook chicken for 5 to 6 minutes per side. 

Allow the chicken to cool off for 10 minutes and then pull or chop the cooked meat into bite sized pieces. 

Add 3 cups of the chicken pieces to a large bowl with softened cream cheese, orange marmalade, curry powder, diced onion and diced celery. 

Stir to combine. If the cream cheese isn't soft, you will have to work on it to get things to combine.

Add almonds to the mixture and stir to combine. Add more almonds if you want extra texture or crunch.

Slice grapes and add those (if using). If you are skeptical about adding grapes, you can add them to each individual sandwich or you can just take half of a grape and a spoonful of chicken salad mixture for a taste test.

Stir everything to combine and if you're not eating immediately, add curry chicken salad mixture to the refrigerator. 

Sandwich assembly: Slice each croissant and toast them if they are not fresh. Toasting will allow an older croissant to have a bit more life.

Add lettuce and/or tomato to the bottom of the croissants. 

On top of the vegetables, add a heaping spoonful or two of curry chicken salad and sandwich it with the croissant tops.

Serve curry chicken salad croissants and enjoy.

The chicken gets a little yellow color from the curry powder.
If you’re unsure about grapes in this sandwich, you can easily cut one grape in half and test it out in a small spoonful of curry chicken salad to see how it tastes. I think it’s a good combo though.
The grapes really do add another flavorful dimension to this sandwich.

I put the grapes in the recipe as optional, but they’re good in this sandwich. They bring pops of sweetness and texture to the chicken salad. The grapes plus the sliced almonds are big pieces of each bite that change up textures and make things super exciting.

I made some of these sandwiches without the grapes and for those I did add tomato slices to one of them. I don’t think it really helps or hurts the sandwich though. I prefer the grape version.
I am trying to overcome some of my fears. Maybe I’ll go jump out of an airplane next!

If you love or hate chicken salad, make this sandwich!

This is the first “chicken salad” I’ve enjoyed in my whole life. If I can do it, then you can too!

Check back next week when I’m making sandwiches with balls.


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