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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.
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.
- 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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|Toss the diced apple with lemon juice and add to a large bowl.|
|Add 2 stalks of diced celery to the bowl.|
|Mince 1/4 of a medium yellow onion and add to the salad.|
|Add the halved grapes and minced basil and parsley.|
|Add the diced roasted chicken to the salad.|
|Add the chopped pecans.|
|For the dressing, add 3/4 cup of homemade mayonnaise.|
|Add 1/4 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt to the mayonnaise.|
|Whisk in the cracked black pepper and salt.|
|Fold in 1 cup of homemade whipped cream.|
|Pour the dressing over the salad and thoroughly combine.|
|Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.|
|Served chilled on lettuce or your favorite bread.|
STORY | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Homemade Chicken Salad
Prep Time: 45 min
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 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
- In a large bowl, toss the diced apple with the lemon juice; add the remaining salad ingredients
- 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
- 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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