Choose the Chicken
You can buy chicken salad at the deli, but nothing beats the homemade version made with fresh, top-quality ingredients. It all starts with good chicken. There are many options:
- Fresh chicken breasts. White meat, or breast meat, is most popular for chicken salad. You can cook your own chicken breasts by boiling or poaching them. For detailed instructions, see How to Boil Chicken Breasts. You can also cook chicken breasts by grilling, sauteing or oven-roasting them. For instructions on all of these methods, go to How to Cook Chicken Breast. For a yield of 2 cups of cooked, cubed chicken needed to make four servings of chicken salad, you will need to start with about 12 ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
- Whole chicken. For dark meat or a combination of dark and white meat, cooking a whole chicken is an option. For step-by-step instructions, go to How to Bake Chicken. One 3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken will yield about 3-1/2 to 4 cups of cooked meat.
- Rotisserie chicken. If you don't want to bother cooking chicken at home, a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a time-saving option.
- Deli chicken. You can use a large piece of cooked chicken from the deli as your starting point.
Cut Up the Chicken into Bite-Size Pieces
Once your chicken is cooked (or purchased), use a sharp knife to cut it into cubes, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in size, depending on your recipe or preference.
How to Prepare the Dressing
Mayonnaise is the classic base for chicken salad dressing, but purchased creamy salad dressing has its fans, too. You can also use half mayo and half sour cream or plain yogurt. Figure about 1/3 to 1/2 cup dressing for 2 cups of chicken. A pinch of salt, a teaspoon of snipped herb such as basil or tarragon, and a squeeze of lemon juice help to boost the flavor of the dressing.
What to Mix In
Chicken salad is as versatile as the little black dress. You can keep it simple with a few classic add-ins or transform it into a trendy ethnic dish. Regardless of what mix-ins you choose, check the salt level -- you may need to add a little. Here are some of our favorite variations:
- Classic. Add one or more of the following: 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1 teaspoon snipped fresh basil, 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel, and/or 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions.
- Hawaiian. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped pineapple. Before serving stir in 1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts.
- Mediterranean. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped marinated artichoke hearts and 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese.
- Curry. Reduce mayonnaise to 1/4 cup. Stir 2 tablespoons cut-up mango chutney and 1 teaspoon curry powder into the dressing. Add 3/4 cup halved red or green seedless grapes or chopped apples to the chicken salad. Before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted cashews or almonds.
How to Serve Chicken Salad
Once you've mixed up the chicken salad, cover and chill it for at least 1 hour to let the flavors blend and to thoroughly chill the ingredients. There are countless ways to serve your chicken creation:
- Serve it straight up on colorful green lettuce leaves.
- Use it as an appetizer spread served with crisp crackers.
- Fill a sandwich. Whole grain bread is a nice contrast to the mild flavor of chicken salad. For an instant touch of class, serve it on a warm croissant. Pita breads work well, too.
- Hollowed-out tomatoes turn chicken salad into party fare.
- Spoon it alongside fresh chunks/slices of cantaloupe, pineapple, or mango, or in a scooped-out papaya shell. Spicy curried chicken salad goes especially well with these fresh fruit options.