Not Your Lunch Lady’s Chicken Salad

chicken salad

Yes, of course you can have chicken. On a salad. Sure. There’s a time and place for that. But wouldn’t you rather have Chicken Salad with all those textures and layers of flavors and…mayonnaise?

I’ve made LITERALLY (not literally) hundreds of thousands of batches of chicken salad in my lifetime and I’ve finally honed in on what takes it from just okay to great. First, you’ve got to start with good chicken – that’s a no-brainer. This is a time to pull out the big guns, the “big guns” being a store-bought rotisserie chicken. They are inconceivably delicious and cost like five dollars, you guys.

Once you’ve laid down your chicken foundation it’s hard to go wrong. Chicken Salad is one of those wonderful foods that you can really make your own, throwing in whatever you have laying around. I find as long as you add some crunch, some sweetness, and plenty of salt and pepper you’ll be just fine. The one thing I will not stand for is the addition of raw onions to perfectly soft, subtle chicken salad. If you do this I will come to your house and pick them out with my fingers in the night and YES I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE, I CAN SMELL THE ONIONS FROM HERE.

Make your chicken salad up to 3 days ahead of time for the flavors to set in or eat it straight out of the bowl with the spoon you’re mixing it with. Not that I’ve ever done that.

LIFE-ALTERING CHICKEN SALAD
makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

1 whole rotisserie chicken (or 2 large roasted bone-in, skin on chicken breasts)
3/4 cup (give or take) mayonnaise (I like Duke’s)
1 celery stalk, diced very finely
1/4 cup toasted nuts – almonds, pecans, or walnuts
1/3 cup raisins or grapes, or a combination of both
salt
pepper

chicken1. Peel the skin off of the rotisserie chicken and use your hands to separate the meat from the bones. I generally try to use up all the white meat before I start adding in the dark but you may need both, depending on the size of your chicken. Chop the meat on a cutting board into small chunks – about 1/4″ – 1/2′ inch in size until you’ve got about 3.5 cups of chicken. Place in a large bowl and save the bones and skin for stock!
***Note: My grocery store was out of rotisserie chickens (ugh) so I bought a package of whole, skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts and roasted them with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil at 450 degrees for 35-40 minutes to get the same results with slightly more work.

2. Using a sharp-tipped knife, cut the celery stalk into as many slivers as you can, at least 6 or so, then dice. Meanwhile, toast whichever nuts you’re using over medium heat in a dry saute pan. DO NOT leave the stove – they will burn the second you do.

celery IMG_2621 celery

3. Using a serrated knife, saw your grapes in half (if using), or quarters if you prefer. Once the nuts are done roasting, chop them into small bits approximating the size of your celery dice. Add the grapes (and/or the raisins, if using) and the nuts to the chicken then season it all liberally with salt and pepper.

grapes4. Stir the chicken and “extras” with a spoon to combine. Add in mayonnaise 1/4 cup at a time and mix thoroughly until your mixture is as wet as you like it. The nice thing about using good-quality roasted chicken is you won’t need as much mayo to make it moist and cohesive. Serve on nutty, hearty toasted bread with lettuce or with some crackers.

Note: Other ingredients I’ve had great success with include Dijon mustard (about 1/3 mustard to 2/3 mayo), chopped tarragon, chopped fennel, small-diced apple, and curry powder. Play around with the base recipe until you create your perfect chicken salad. 

 

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