It is finally consistently hot here in the concrete jungle so I wanted to try to replicate a dish of Mom’s that celebrates summertime: light and refreshing with some zest and crunch. Judy’s Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney immediately came to mind—actually finding that recipe was a different story. I have such bitter-sweet memories of this meal. The last time I remember eating the dish was at my baby shower for my first child, ten years ago. As per usual, Mom was the consummate hostess. She somehow pulled off a surprise shower for me with Herculean efforts and drove up to New York to cook all of the gourmet food served (without me even knowing). It’s safe to say that there were no left-overs and everyone asked for a copy of the recipe at the end of the party. In fact, there was so much hype around this recipe that it was featured in The Cooking Club Party Cookbook – so, unfortunately, I won’t be able to take credit that my blog put this yummy chicken salad on the culinary map.
Shopping for the ingredients to this recipe was another challenge. Like any burgeoning cook lacking confidence, I wanted to take short cuts. Mom always purchased a bottle of Major Grey’s chutney for the salad. So, of course, I wanted to do the same. That’s easy. Why spend the time making something when I can buy it premade in a bottle? But, part of my Judythefoodie journey is the challenge of cooking and the acceptance that I’ll probably fumble my way through half the meals. And, I can’t be a hypocrite. I should practice what I preach on a daily basis to my kids—“how are you going to learn how to do something AND gain confidence if you don’t try it for yourself?”
Mangoes are obviously a key ingredient in Mom’s dish and I (gulp) have never purchased a fresh mango. I was hoping to rely on the wonderfully knowledgeable staff at Whole Foods Market to hold my hand through the produce aisle. I love eating mangoes as a topping on my yogurt at Pinkberry. I love purchasing frozen bagged mango slices to put in smoothies. However, I had no clue what a whole mango looked like. And, to support my theory from my post Six of One Half Dozen of the Other, there are so many varieties and flavor variations to the fruit it’s overwhelming – 140 different types in commercial production to be exact. Luckily, Whole Foods only had a few different types and I figured the prettiest ones would be the best – little did I know. I covertly entered “how to tell when a mango is ripe” in Google search on my iPhone and started squeezing away. In the process, I was also able to help out an elderly woman who too didn’t know what to do with mangoes.
Ginger was next. I’ve eaten ginger snaps, I’ve purchased sugared ginger slices, I’ve chewed ginger candies to combat nausea during my pregnancy, and sipped ginger ale to remedy an upset stomach. But, I had absolutely no idea what fresh ginger looks like. Frankly, I was petrified when an employee showed me the fresh crop. The ginger looked more like a fossil from the Natural History Museum than something I wanted to put in my food! And, realizing that I needed only one tablespoon of fresh ginger, I had no idea what I would do with the remaining bark-like piece.
After shopping, I was patting my back that I bit the bullet and opted to make the chutney myself. However, I realized I selected Haitian mangoes that were apparently the wrong type. What’s helpful about living in a big city is my proximity to so many specialty food stores. I was able to run up the street to Fairway and find exactly what was needed and within minutes, a fresh mango chutney mixture was boiling on the stove top, transforming the stale atmosphere in my kitchen to savory sweet.
When it came time to boil the chicken breasts, I had vivid flashbacks of Mom carrying around pieces of boiled chicken in a little zip-loc bag in her purse. She’d go out to restaurants and discretely remove the starched white pieces of meat from the baggie and dump them on top of a salad. The more I’m experimenting with Mom’s cooking, the more I’m (unexpectedly) learning about her psyche. How can someone be such an amazing, experimental gourmet cook and not want to taste or relish in his or her own creations? As I pulled up the naked pieces of boiled chicken from water in the pot (and who eats boiled chicken these days) I realized that mom tried to deny herself any delight with food. This is quite an oxymoron and I’m sure she struggled with this neurosis on a daily basis. Creating such delectable dishes like Chicken with Mango Chutney and then only allowing herself a stripped down version of bland, boiled chicken seemed like a form of self torture. Well, for me, I couldn’t wait to taste my first forkful of the chilled salad. Call me anything you want but this proud cook is going to INDULGE and ENJOY and the salad was exactly the way I remembered!
Now, what to do with that huge piece of leftover ginger? I see the making of a rainy day art project…
What’s your most creative use for leftover ingredients? Best idea will receive a glow-in-the-dark ginger light saber!
Judy’s Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney
For the Chutney:
- 3 mangoes, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Salad:
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds), rinsed patted dry with paper towels
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 4 scallions (white parts plus 2 bunches of green), thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, shredded
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 cups snow peas, rinsed and cut into julienne strips
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro, plus extra whole leaves
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- lettuce leaves (such as Boston lettuce) (optional)
- To prepare the chutney, bring all the chutney ingredients to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring the mixture frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. When done, remove from the heat and set aside. Let cool.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken breasts and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through, about 7 to 9 minutes, depending on thickness of the breasts. (you’ll want to slightly under cook them as they will continue to cook when you remove them from the water).
- Remove the chicken from the pot. When it’s cool enough to handle, tear the chicken into pieces that are roughly 1-inch-wide (bite-size) chunks.
- In a large bowl, mix 3/4 cup cooled chutney (save the remainder for another use) with the mayonnaise and scallions. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Add the shredded carrot, almonds, snow peas, and minced cilantro and toss again. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in a bowl lined with lettuce leaves and garnish with whole cilantro leaves. Enjoy!