When it comes to chicken salad, the star of the show should always be the chicken. With that being said there are many additions you can make to this classic American dish that will make it just the way you like it.
Personally I like my chicken salad bare bones. Chicken, celery, mayonaise, salt, pepper and granulated onion.
Serve it on my favorite 21-grain bread and I’m a happy chef! Of course, I wouldn’t say no to this delicious chicken salad on a buttery croissant…sigh.
The truth is making a classic dish like chicken salad shouldn’t be difficult. There are no special cooking techniques to master this dish. And in fact it can be made of any leftover chicken you have on hand.
But in the restaurant we cook chicken specifically for this dish. And how we cook it might surprise you. But I’ll get to that.
What do you need to make Chicken Salad?
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make Chicken Salad. In Chef Speak this is called the Mise en Place which translates into Everything in its Place.
Not only does setting your ingredients up ahead of time speed the cooking process, but it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
What type of chicken should I use for Chicken Salad?
When making chicken salad you want white and dark meat. The ratio is usually 60% white meat (breast) and 40% dark meat (thighs).
Of course you can use whatever type of chicken you like. Some restaurants use all breast meat thinking that their customers will think its a better quality.
The truth is there is more flavor in dark meat and that’s why I use both when I make this dish. Of course, if I have leftover chicken and its all breast meat, I use what I have.
It’s all about adapting the recipe to the ingredients you have on hand.
How should I cook the chicken?
Many recipes will tell you to poach the chicken. Which means cooking it in water or stock on the stovetop. So basically your cooking the chicken in water (sort of boiling the chicken), and lots of the flavor comes out in the water. And some chicken can get a little rubbery cooking this way.
If I’m making soup this is fine. But if I’m making chicken for a salad topping or chicken salad I’m going to roast the meat. This would be the same if I was cooking a whole chicken or pieces with the bone in and skin on.
First coat the chicken with a little olive oil (or cooking oil of your choice), season with sea salt and black pepper.
Feel free to use any seasoning you like, to create your own flavor of chicken salad. These are some of the different spices I’ve used.
- cajun seasoning
- lemon pepper
- old bay
- taco seasoning
Add a little water to the bottom of the baking dish (1/4 cup) and cover the dish with foil. Place the dish in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast reads a minimum of 165 degrees.
When the chicken is fully cooked, allow it to cool for a 5 -10 minutes. When the chicken has sufficiently cooled, place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to full chill.
Cooking the chicken ahead of time is a good idea. Make it today for lunch tomorrow.
When the chicken has fully cooled in the fridge, you can cut it up into 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces. I like it on the smaller side, but not so small you can’t recognize that its chicken.
And don’t get me started on the ground chicken version, I have teeth and want to see what kind of chicken you’re using. If it’s ground it could be anything.
Place the diced chicken into a large bowl with the celery, mayo and granulated onion (if you don’t like onion leave it out).
I like to mix this all together before I reseason with sea salt and black pepper.
What can I use besides mayonnaise?
- plain Greek yogurt
- ranch dressing
- combination of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and mayonnaise
- blue cheese dressing (add hot sauce to the chicken) to make it buffalo style
Reseason if needed, then place the finished chicken salad in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors build.
Making it early in the day or a day ahead of time will give you a better tasting chicken salad.
What else can I add to Chicken Salad?
I’ve seen a lot of other ingredients show up in this American Classic, here are some of my favorites:
- added vegetables: carrots, roasted red peppers, onion, scallions
- chopped olives
- walnuts, pecans or pistachios
I love a big scoop of chicken salad on a tossed salad. Add your favorite dressing and salad ingredients and you’ve got a light, delicious lunch or dinner.
It’s also a nice filling for a stuffed tomato.
But when it gets right down to it, nothing beats a good chicken salad sandwich and it plays well with other ingredients. Bacon, tomato and cheese are some of my favorite add ons, when I’m feeling a little adventurous.
And anyway you make your sandwich is okay with me. Use a roll, your favorite bread, a pita or a toasted flour tortilla.
If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like these:
- Restaurant Style Shrimp Salad
- Ultimate Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Blackened Salmon Sliders
- Pepperoni Pizza Grilled Cheese