I tend to hammer delicious recipes deep into the ground, like this simple chicken salad recipe. (Don’t even get me started on tacos.)
The best chicken salad recipe ever
The thing is I thought chicken salad could only be amazing if it was chock full of grapes, eggs or cranberries. Until I tried a scoop of the best chicken salad I’ve ever had from our local bookstore/cupcakery out of necessity. I was straddling the fine line between hangry and supreme spirit of evil.
I hadn’t eaten lunch and wanted nothing more than to pound a chocolate cupcake. This place has the most drool worthy gluten free cupcakes with dark chocolate frosting.
When I asked what was in the chicken salad, and they responded nothing I was a bit shocked. No nuts? No cranberries? Seriously?
My scoop of chicken salad came out on a bed of butter lettuce (my favorite) and a seasoned sliced tomato topped with diced avocado and a side of Crunchmaster crackers. Ah, perfection.
And the best part (besides it being easy and simple) is it’s a perfect base for mix ins. Cranberry and almonds? Sure. Eggs and bacon? Chya! Hey, I like sandwiches! Do it.
Alright, let’s do this.
First we need to poach the chicken, and while our chicken hangs out in slowly simmering water we can make the dressing. Have no fear, poaching is just a fancy term for cooking at a low temperature in liquid. Think simmer, not boil. All we need is:
- Chicken breast
Whaattt? That is way too simple. And the thing is that’s all you need for flavorful poached chicken. The most important aspects of poaching chicken are going to be cooking it slowly (simmer DON’T boil) and heavy on the salt (to add flavor). Not all of the salt will penetrate the chicken. Remember how delicious your Thanksgiving turkey tasted from its salt brine? Similar concept. It won’t taste like a wave caught you with your mouth open at the beach.
Don’t believe me? Check out this How To Poach Chicken article by Bon Appetit.
Although our method varies slightly. Two things we agree on: cook it slow, and all you need is salt and water! I did say it would be a simple chicken salad recipe, did I not?
How to poach your chicken:
Place 3 chicken breasts in a large saucepan and add 5 cups of cold water and 2 1/2 t. kosher salt. Turn the heat onto a smidge above medium heat and let the water come to a low simmer. Flip the chicken breast with a fork and let simmer for 9 to 13 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breast.
The chicken breast should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit on a kitchen thermometer. I pierced one with a fork, raised it up and temped it right over the pot.
Place chicken breasts and let rest for a couple minutes while you tidy up (or drink some wine). Trim any undesirables off of the chicken and chop finely with a large chef’s knife. Place the chicken in a bowl and toss with your mayo mixture.
I do recommend making this homemade chicken salad when you have enough time to let it get nice and cold in the fridge. The good news is it tastes even better the next day.
I threw mine in the freezer for 30 minutes and it sped up the process nicely, then enjoy!
Simple and Delicious Chicken Salad Variations:
For a healthy take: Substitute 1/4 cup of the mayo for Greek yogurt. Squeeze a little less lemon into the mixture as the greek yogurt adds a slight tang. Most important rule of cooking – always taste as you go! Or if you simply want less fat, there are quite a few varieties of lower fat mayonnaise at the store.
Grapes and Walnuts: Slice grapes in half and chop up some walnuts for a sweet juicy bite and delightful crunch.
Apples, Dried Cranberries and Pecans: Small dice up your favorite apple, and throw in some dried cranberries and chopped pecans. I prefer more crisp and slightly tart apples like the honey crisp or pink lady.
Traditional Southern – Mix in chopped boiled egg and chopped sweet pickles.
Savory and Spicy – Add shredded cheddar cheese, cooked crumbled bacon and chopped up pickled jalapenos. Yum!
There are so many variations on chicken salad. I would encourage you to get creative with it. For other delicious recipes, check out my Recipes page.
Simple Chicken Salad Recipe
- Large Saucepan
- Chef's knife
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups and spoons
For the shredded and chopped chicken:
- 3 chicken breasts
- 5 Cups Cold Water
- 2 1/2 t. kosher salt
For the dressing:
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed
- 1/2 t. kosher salt
- 1 t. honey
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- 1 heirloom or firm tomato, sliced
- 1 head butter lettuce
- 1 favorite crackers
For the poached chicken:
- Trim any fat, tendons or undesirables off chicken breasts and place in a large saucepan. Add 5 cups of cold water, 2 1/2 t. kosher salt and turn on the heat to a little bit above medium.
- Let chicken come to a very gentle simmer and then using tongs or a fork flip chicken breasts over. There should be movement but not a lot of bubblage. We are going for long and slow, not boiling.
- Let the chicken simmer for 9 to 14 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts. Remove chicken from water when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Place on cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.
- Shred and chop chicken until fine. Add to a large bowl and toss with dressing gradually until all the way coated but not overdressed.
For the dressing:
- Place mayo, salt and honey in a bowl and mix well. Gradually add lemon juice until you get desired taste.
- Add dressing to chicken gradually until all mixed together and coated but not overdressed. I had just a little bit left in my bowl.
- Refrigerate until cold.
- Place butter lettuce leaves in a bowl. Add a sliced tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken salad and then chopped avocado. Enjoy with crackers.