Thursday, May 17, 2012

Homemade Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad Close 2



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Fear Conquered: Bland Chicken

Tastes like chicken!

Only that's the problem - I don't really love the flavor of plain old chicken breast. It tends to be a bit bland and a little chalky in texture. Especially if one buys the prepackaged chicken breasts wrapped six-at-a-time and sold for super-cheap at your local Walmart. "Tastes like chicken" is basically just a nice way of saying it doesn't really taste like much of anything.

Maybe that's why I never got very excited about chicken growing up. It wasn't offensive, but it wasn't very tasty either. Especially when served without a tasty breading or a potent marinade. Or smothered in cheese. Or overwhelmed in chicken salad.

I'll be honest - I don't love chicken salad because of the chicken. In fact, I do everything possible to forget about the chicken. I add in apple, celery, grapes, onion and pecans. I add fresh parsley and basil to punch up the flavor. And I add an unhealthful amount of homemade mayonnaise and whipped cream to top it off.

Chicken Salad Ingredients in Bowl

With all those flavors and textures, chicken breast is little more than a protein filler and easily forgotten. I’m in love with the crunch of the celery, the sweet tartness from the apple, the juicy burst from each halved grape and the potent brightness of the basil. Then there’s the depth of flavor from the pecans. And the vinegar zing in the homemade mayonnaise. And the delicate richness of the homemade whipped cream.

The chicken? Well, my chicken salad tastes nothing like plain, old bland chicken. And that's a good thing.

I actually start with flavorful chicken breasts because mine start their life as part of a seven pound chicken stuffed with aromatics, rubbed with seasonings and roasted until juicy. My chicken breasts are about as delicious as chicken breasts can get (short of frying). And to be fair, if you add enough mayonnaise, whipped cream and assorted fruit, you can pretty much make anything taste delicious. Even plain-old, pre-packaged chalky Walmart-special chicken breasts.

Roasted Chicken Breast, Cubed

  • Chicken salad should always be served nice and cold. The flavors really need a chance to meld and who wants to eat tepid chicken salad on a hot day? Serve the salad chilled over lettuce or with your favorite bread.
     
  • I prefer red grapes over green grapes - I think they stay crisper and pack a little more tartness. And I like the extra color they impart to the salad. But if you take comfort in green grapes, then go for it. Just check the label and always buy seedless. There’s nothing comforting in seeding your own grapes.
     
  • I often roast a big chicken a day or two in advance of this salad. I serve up the dark meat for dinner and save the breasts for chicken salad. I think whole roasted birds have juicier and better tasting meat than the pre-packaged chicken parts. But if you're short on time, you can always use packaged chicken breasts. You'll want to roast these, covered, with a little olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper for approximately 30 minutes at 350℉ or until the center of the breast is no longer pink.
     
  • Make your own mayonnaise and whipped cream. Yes, it takes a little time but there's such a difference in flavor. I have provided links to my preferred recipe for each.
     
  • My favorite apple for this salad is a HoneyCrisp. Sadly, these apples are pretty tough to find except in the fall, so an acceptable alternative is Pink Lady or Fuji. I don't recommend Granny Smith (too "green" tasting) or Red Delicious (too mushy).




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Photo Tutorial

Diced Honey Crisp Apple
Toss the diced apple with lemon juice and add to a large bowl.

Diced Celery
Add 2 stalks of diced celery to the bowl.

1/4 Yellow Onion
Mince 1/4 of a medium yellow onion and add to the salad.

Chicken Salad Ingredients in Bowl
Add the halved grapes and minced basil and parsley.

Roasted Chicken Breast, Cubed
Add the diced roasted chicken to the salad.

Chopped Pecans
Add the chopped pecans.

3/4 Cup Homemade Mayonnaise
For the dressing, add 3/4 cup of homemade mayonnaise.

Greek Yogurt Added to Mayonnaise
Add 1/4 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt to the mayonnaise.

Cracked Black Pepper Added to Dressing
Whisk in the cracked black pepper and salt.

1 Cup Homemade Whipped Cream
Fold in 1 cup of homemade whipped cream.

Homemade Chicken Salad Mixed
Pour the dressing over the salad and thoroughly combine.

Homemade Chicken Salad
Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Chicken Salad Bright
Served chilled on lettuce or your favorite bread.



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Homemade Chicken Salad

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 45 min

Ingredients (serves 6)
    Salad
    • 1 crisp apple, cored and diced (recommend HoneyCrisp or Pink Lady)
    • 1/2 lemon, juice of
    • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
    • 1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
    • 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, minced
    • 1 handful fresh basil, minced
    • 1 3/4 cups seedless red grapes, halved
    • 1 pound roasted chicken breast, cubed
    • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
    Dressing
    Instructions
    1. In a large bowl, toss the diced apple with the lemon juice; add the remaining salad ingredients
    2. For the dressing: In a large measure, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, salt and pepper; gently fold in the homemade whipped cream until just combined
    3. Pour the dressing over the salad and fold everything together until evenly coated; cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving
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    Hungry for Tips?
    • Balance: Really delicious and comforting salads are all about balance - the right flavors, the right textures, the right sizes, the correct proportions of everything. This chicken salad recipe is no different. I've experimented with different quantities of each ingredient and if you're not good at eye-balling, I recommend measuring the ingredients and sticking to the proportions given
       
    • Easy on Onion: Be cautious with onion - too much (or too big of pieces) and it will overpower the other flavors and leave a strange aftertaste that's not quite recognizable as onion.
       
    • Basil: If you're not a fan of basil, you could try another herb like tarragon. I'm not a fan of tarragon in this salad - it always seems to taste like a weed to me and that's not very comforting. You could leave out the herb altogether, but the salad tends to taste a bit heavy without the brightness from herbs.
       
    • Nuts: My boyfriend isn't a fan of walnuts so I use pecans (although he's not much of a fan of pecans either). However, I have made this with walnuts and I actually prefer the walnuts, so use the nut of your choice. The only nuts I recommend steering clear of are peanuts and cashews - they're a bit overpowering and a strange flavor pairing with the basil.
       
    • Fold: Don't over-stir or whisk the dressing or it will go runny due to the homemade whipped cream. Just fold the dressing together gently until combined.
       
    • Dressing: Speaking of dressing, after you pour the dressing over the salad and fold everything together, the salad will look a little soupy or over-dressed. That's ok - the chicken will soak up some of the dressing as the salad chills and everything will thicken nicely.



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    13 comments:

    1. Another fabulous recipe! YUM. I need to find the time to start cooking again ;/

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      1. Thanks Mai - and I hope you do find the time to cook again. Your food is always beautifully tempting...

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    2. Great way of doing chicken. Love your salad, looks terribly tasty X

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    3. I must admit I've never actually had chicken salad, but this looks wonderful!

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      1. The first time I had chicken salad it was in a restaurant. And it was kind of bland and tasted mostly like mayonnaise. So I've tried to punch up the flavor and I'm glad the combination of appeals to others =)

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    4. Love the idea of fresh herbs in chicken salad! Oh I'm so glad it's spring! Thanks for sharing!

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      1. Me too, Amy! And it's closing in on summer already, which is hard to believe...

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    5. I'm really impressed! I've never made chicken salad but I order it at restaurant often. Looks like a little bit labor intensive but I do not mind at all for this salad! By the way, do you like using the apple core tool (don't know how you call it). I cut it with knife but I have seen that in kitchen store...

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      1. If you've already have chicken breasts cooked and mayonnaise made (I keep homemade mayonnaise in my fridge most of the time), it's doesn't take too long to make. But it does take a some time to chill ;) Regarding the apple corer/dicer, I like it and it works on about 75% of apples. If you have a oddly shaped apple, the tool doesn't work as well...

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    6. Wow! This is a way tastier version than what I have in mind. This looks really delicious. Have to try, a must! =)

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      Replies
      1. Thank you so much - I hope you enjoy if you do try it :)

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    7. I love chicken salad. This looks amazing. Love the addition of grapes.

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