August 30, 2010

A Summertime Staple

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Margaret's Morsels | Chicken Salad

Before summer is over, I want to share my favorite summertime recipe.  I make the first batch as soon as the mercury starts rising.  I obtained the recipe from a restaurant in Chattanooga 20 years ago.  It is the best Chicken Salad I've ever eaten!

All chicken salad recipes start out the same.  They use chicken, seasonings and something to bind it together.  Usually the binding ingredient is mayonnaise, but I've seen recipes that use sour cream, whipped cream, cream cheese and even Cool Whip.  Some recipes keep it simple, but other recipes add a lot of ingredients.  The additional ingredients fall into four categories:

  • Fruit:  This is probably the most popular addition to chicken salad.  A lot of recipes use grapes, mandarin oranges or pineapple.  I've also seen recipes that use peaches, apricots, strawberries or cranberries.
  • Vegetables:  Although not as popular as fruit, most recipes usually include celery, onion, pimentos or a combination of the three.  I've also found recipes that use garlic, green peas, green onions or broccoli.
  • Texture:  Chicken salad doesn't have much texture which is why a lot of recipes include something crunchy.  Usually the crunch comes from celery or nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans or walnuts.  Some recipes add texture by adding bacon, poppy seeds or French fried onions.
  • Seasonings:  This is where personal preference comes into play more than any other category.  I stick with salt and pepper, but there are recipes that call for lemon juice, sugar, mustard, vinegar, honey, mint or Worcestershire sauce.

Chicken salad is a versatile recipe.  If you don't like an ingredient, you can leave it out or substitute something else in its place.  If you think it needs additional ingredients, you can add things you like.  When you add or subtract ingredients, you need to adjust the amount of the binding ingredient and seasonings as well.

My recipe uses what I consider to be traditional ingredients for chicken salad, but it does contain one ingredient that is slightly exotic:  water chestnuts.  Water chestnuts are bland, but they are extremely crunchy.  I highly recommend leaving them in the salad.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken Salad

I omit the pecans if I know someone is allergic to nuts.  You could put pecans in half the batch and leave the other half plain.  However, you need to make sure you know which batch is which.  I find it easier just to leave out the pecans.

When I make chicken salad, I use chicken breasts with the skin and bone attached.  I find the meat is more flavorful than using boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  While the chicken is cooking, I prep all the other ingredients.  By the time the chicken is cooked, skinned and boned, I've got everything ready to assemble.  I make chicken salad a day ahead and refrigerate it so the flavors have time to blend.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken Salad
I do all this while the chicken is cooking.

A nice way to serve chicken salad is on a lettuce lined platter.  You can use a cookie scoop to make individual mounds of chicken salad.  To make it fancier, top each mound with a sprig of parsley.

I like to serve chicken salad with a basket of croissants and another cold dish, such as Cherry Gelatin Fruit Salad.  Summer is quickly winding down, but I think there's enough time for me to make one more batch of chicken salad this season.

Chicken Salad
8 Servings

4 chicken breast halves
1 onion, quartered
1 stalk celery, halved
1 (8 oz.) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, drained
1 (2 oz.) jar diced pimentos, drained
1/4 cup chopped  pecans
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
mayonnaise (enough to moisten)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Cover chicken with water; add salt, onion and stalk of celery.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Discard onion and celery.  Skin and debone chicken; chop into small chunks.  Add remaining ingredients; mix well.  Keep refrigerated.

© Margaret's Morsels

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