Monday, February 19, 2007

The Best Chicken Salad

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My favorite lunch, bar none, is a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of really good potato chips, accompanied by a fizzy fruit juice drink (preferably a Pear Izze.) I usually get this at Whole Foods, though Waters Fine Foods take out shop near Morena Boulevard also does it very well. Whole Foods terms their chicken salad "Old Fashioned" - while Waters' is named "Rocky's."

The other day, I had some chicken breasts in the fridge that needed to be cooked - so I poached them in a deep skillet of simmering water, figuring that I would snack on them during the week. Then I had a better idea.

I hadn't made chicken salad in a while, but I figured it couldn't be that difficult to reproduce the Whole Foods formula. It's perfectly simple with only a few ingredients - chicken, mayonnaise, celery, chopped red onion, pickle relish, and of course salt and pepper. I like to cut the richness of mayonnaise salads with yogurt. and I did the same here, with a ratio of about 50/50. I also found some organic pickle relish - and used red onion, which looks prettier than white and gives a better flavor. The finished salad should be sweet and tangy, with a nice little crunch.

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This is a very approximate recipe - I just sort of mixed and stirred until I got it right. As such, feel free to adjust to your taste. A couple of hints - it's easy to get too much red onion in it, and it takes more pepper than you think it should. If you put too much yogurt vs. mayo in the dressing, it may get a bit too watery.

Old Fashioned Chicken Salad:

4 or 5 poached organic boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup lowfat Best Foods Mayonnaise
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt - not too tart. (Trader Joes Organic works well)
2 Tbsp pickle relish (I used Organic Cascadian that I found at Peoples) plus a dribble of the juice
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion

for the poached chicken:
fill a deep large saute pan with enough water to cover the chicken breasts. Add half a teaspoon or so of salt, cover and bring to a simmer.
Lay the chicken breasts in the water and simmer lightly until they are cooked through. They will visibly shrink and tighten when they are fully cooked. Cut one to test, and when they are done - refrigerate until cold. (When they are almost done, you can turn the heat off and let them finish poaching in the hot water.) To dice the chicken - slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise - place the halves flat side down and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices - stack and slice into 1/4 inch strips - chop into 1/4 inch dice.

for the dressing:
Mix together the mayonnaise, yogurt, pickle relish celery and onion. Add to the chicken and toss to coat. Season with lots of fresh ground pepper and a dash of salt.

This is fine when eaten right away, but even better after an hour or so in the fridge.

I've also made an approximation of the Rocky's formula. The "secret ingredients" there are a bit of lemon and some well drained artichoke hearts. I don't believe there is any pickle relish in theirs - but it is a bit sweet - maybe they use a little sugar.

Other good variations I've made in the past:
Lemon Basil Chicken Salad - Leave out the pickle relish. To the mayonnaise/yogurt/onion/celery mixture - add 1 Tbsp fresh finely chopped organic basil leaves and 2 drops (no more!) of lemon oil or 1/2 tsp of finely chopped lemon zest.
Curried Chicken Salad - Leave out the pickle relish. To the mayonnaise/yogurt/onion/celery mixture, add 2 Tbsp of curry powder, 1/2 cup of Major Grey's Chutney, 1/2 of a green apple, finely chopped and a handful of sliced or slivered almonds.

All of these are absolutely delicious made into a sandwich with lettuce and tomato on lightly toasted brioche. Trust me on this - I speak from experience!


  1. This looks so, so, so yummy! I will have to put this on my lunch menu for next week.

  2. Is everything organic because you're eating/cooking only organic or does it taste better that way?

  3. Chris - if you did try it, I hope you enjoyed it!!

    Kady - I guess you could say both - I try to cook and eat organic at home both because I think it tastes better (especially chicken, eggs and dairy products) and because it's better for the environment!

  4. That Sounds good, I'll try it! There's also a good one on all recipes dot com that calls for "salad dressing" (Miraclewhip I think) and cashews.