But before we can get to all the fancy options, to me, it is the chicken itself, the quality of the bird and how it's cooked that makes or breaks a truly great chicken salad. Go ahead, chop up that leftover roast bird, and it may be tasty, but it may also be dryer than last week's line hung laundry! While a better choice for the dry leftover roast may be to make a saucy chicken casserole, in the event that you are indeed hoping for a chicken salad, my trick is to add pickle juice to the mix. Sweet and/or dill are equally wonderful, and then let the whole thing sit in the refrigerator an for hour or two before serving. That seems to help moisten things up again quite nicely.
My very first word of advice for a premium chicken salad is to buy a great piece of chicken, or whole bird. I have long since sworn off purchasing meats from the every day selections at the local grocery store, especially when the sale prices are too good to believe! I have had too many unpleasant experiences with standard store bought meats, and read enough about modern agriculture to know that what passes for styrofoam plated cello wrapped chicken is quite fowl indeed!
I know what you're thinking now, that it's way too expensive to buy the organic, grass fed or local farm raised meats. While it is more costly now, my choice is to pay a bit more now and live a healthier life, rather than to eat cheap now, gamble on health, and pay the medical bills later. Also, it is important to note that Americans eat way too much animal product anyway! If we cut our meat consumption to only a couple of times a week, we would be far healthier for it, and save some money too. Eat more veggies I say!
But for those who must have an occasional chicken salad, or like my husband for whom it is a dietary staple, I offer here my method for fabulously tender and delicious Chicken salad. Please note that like every basic recipe, there are a thousand variations and renditions. To say that there is a world's best chicken salad is a matter of opinion, the seasonal trend, and whatever strikes your fancy on any given day. There are days when the addition of nuts are a textural offense, and other days when the addition of cranberries would smack a sugary overload.
So here is my recipe for a basic yet interesting, home style chicken salad that offers a celery crunch, a mild red onion edge and the snappy addition of both dill and sweet pickles. And as you will see in the recipe, I cook the chicken by simmering it in a covered pot and allowing it to completely chill in the broth. Keeping the meat submerged in that savory broth until it's cold, keeps all that flavor and liquid in the fibers of the meat guaranteeing cold chicken that is flavorful and never hard or tough.
With enough vegetative interest to satisfy this "need-for-green" girl, I think it's good enough for a blue ribbon at the county fair!
1 whole, bone in (organic, naturally raised, hormone and antibiotic free, or locally raised) chicken breast (which is both sides with the breast bone in center), about 1 1/2-2 pounds
1 tsp salt
2 ribs celery, small diced
1/4 cup small diced red onion
1/3 cup sweet and/or dill pickles diced small
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp yellow mustard
1-2 tbsp pickle juice, sweet or dill, your choice
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breast, skin side up, in a medium sauce pan. Cover with cold water and add salt. Place lid on pan and bring to a low simmer. Reduce heat and continue to simmer for about 45 minutes, until meat is cooked completely through. Remove from heat and allow to cool with lid on, do not remove the chicken from the broth. Place it all in the refrigerator until completely cold. I usually do this the day before.
When you're ready to mix things up, remove the meat from the now slightly gelatinized liquid. Save that for another use, like for cooking rice, or for the start of a fabulous soup! Remove meat from the bone, discarding bones and skin. Cut chicken into 1/2" dice and place in mixing bowl along with the other ingredients. Mix well, adjust seasoning if necessary, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve on a bed of greens, with raw vegetable crudites or as a sandwich filling.