Everybody loves a good chicken salad. Well, maybe not everyone. But if you like chicken salad, and maybe even if you don’t, this recipe is significantly better than most recipes. Fine, I don’t have a study to prove that. But everybody asks me for the recipe, and most tell me it’s “the best” chicken salad they’ve ever had… and (bonus) that their kids eat it!
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m partial to it; I had been playing with my chicken salad recipe ever since B and I had our first weekend getaway at a B&B near Charlottesville, VA, six months after we were married in 2004. The owners sent us on a leisurely hike into the fall leaves with a gourmet picnic lunch that included a yummy chicken salad. We still talk about it; it has been one of the most memorable foods we’ve had together.
It’s cool how an ideal setting and a bit of nostalgia make you love certain foods even more, isn’t it? Even after countless gourmet meals in countless ideal settings in more than 30 different countries during more than 12 years–chicken salad still makes the cut! And it only took about 6 years and several variations before I quit because my chicken salad recipe finally converged with the memory of the one we enjoyed so much.
Well, we definitely don’t eat it on a croissant like we did that fall day, but we love it just the same in a bowl or alongside our favorite tossed salad, or a simple wedge salad with homemade blue cheese dressing for a change.
Chicken salad is so easy, especially with leftover cooked chicken. And coincidentally enough, my homemade seasoning salt can be sprinkled (don’t measure it) on a whole chicken and cooked 6 to 8 hours in a slow cooker on low with nothing else added. Actually, I usually cram two small (about 5 pounds each) chickens in my 6-quart slow cooker for plenty of leftover chicken; sometimes I freeze it for later.
A few comments about this recipe:
- I don’t worry too much about the mayonnaise. The type of fat in traditional store-bought mayonnaise (Hellman’s Real mayo, for example) is probably not the healthiest (more on that in another post ASAP). But because it’s only a small amount and we use it so infrequently (mainly just in chicken and tuna salad), I’m okay with it. That said, I do think we will try making our own mayonnaise again, because along with the very highly processed oil (soybean usually), it also has preservatives, and even sugar, surprisingly. B tried making homemade mayo a while ago, but I was sort of grossed out with the raw egg process. And frankly, even as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t always have time to make everything from scratch! (Well, you know–bon bons maybe, mayo no.) But again, we are a work in progress so I’ll try again making it, as well as continue searching for alternate store-bought mayo made with better oils. Of course, I expect it to taste good. I’ll share when I find a worthy replacement.
- Lately, for a healthy whole food fat, I often substitute mashed avocado in place of mayo if we’ll eat the chicken salad immediately or when I make it in small batches (so it doesn’t turn black.) Love the taste and velvety texture avocado provides…and green happens to be my favorite color.
- The apples and cranberries do provide sugar (natural sugar from the apples and even a little added sugar from the cranberries). But because they are fruits with fiber and real foods, and because we find other ways to cut back on sugar, I add them anyway because they make the chicken salad taste great and satisfying with a slight sweetness. You definitely won’t miss the bread. But you will have to try it to prove me right OR wrong.
Best Chicken Salad
- 4 cups cubed, cooked chicken meat
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon homemade seasoning salt
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 green onions, chopped (you can use fresh or dried chives if you don’t have green onions)
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
- 1 apple, chopped (optional)
- 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (optional)
- 1 cup mayonnaise or 1 large avocado, mashed
- ground black pepper, to taste
- In a large bowl, mix together chicken, paprika and seasoning salt.
- Stir in dried cranberries, apples, celery, onions, and nuts if desired.
- Add mayonnaise or avocado and mix well. (Serve immediately if using avocado because it turns brown.) Season with black pepper to taste.
Serve this in a bowl or as lettuce wraps.