Chicken Salad is like my second favorite pair of jeans. I tend to forget about them, but when I do, I’m wondering why they were pushed to the back of the closet. The answer is that I’ve gotten into a rut grabbing that same pair of jeans and forgetting about the ones that have a little bling on them and help to mix things up a bit.
When I make a roast chicken (which is often), I tend to have chicken breast meat left over and do lots of things with it, but forget about chicken salad, until yesterday. Maybe it was because I had everything I needed to make it great, but as I was pulling the chicken salad together, it dawned on me as to why I forget about it.
Chicken salad can be boring and bland, and that usually makes me want to add more and more mayonnaise, which is the wrong solution to this problem.
I realized the thing most missing is chicken salad is acid!
Fat, salt and acid are necessary for a balanced bite and chicken salad needs zing. After I added some fuji apples (which help with acid), toasted pecans, cranberries, and celery, I stopped and made a dressing, which contained a secret ingredient. I added a little honey and little bit of vinegar. The vinegar I chose was a dark, syrupy raspberry vinegar, but you could add in a little apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar or even a white balsamic. Mix your mayonnaise, honey and vinegar first and taste. It should have enough zing to wake you up, but not too much. I also like to shred the chicken, not cube it. This makes it easy to make small finger sandwiches, or put on crackers for a great appetizer.
Use a very snappy cracker like a pita cracker, not a crumbly one. Be sure to toast the pecans, and if you’re daring, you can add some heat, a little cayenne perhaps. Chop the celery finely so it the chicken salad will spread easily and go sparingly with the dressing. My rule of thumb is to put just enough to hold the chicken salad together.
Another secret addition is a hint of freshly chopped rosemary or tarragon. Not too much, but just a smattering because it goes so good with the apples. Both are powerful herbs, so taste as you go.
You can use Granny Smith tart apples which stay nice and firm or something like a Fuji or gala. Softer apples don’t do well. You can use any herb you like, a little parsley, dill, thyme, or tarragon. Now excuse me, I’m off to roast a chicken, because now I want to eat this chicken salad all over again.