A shredded chicken salad recipe with the perfect dressing and delicious with almost any mix ins!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. In other words, if you click a link and purchase something I will receive a commission at no cost to you. I only recommend products I use and enjoy myself.
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 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 chicken I was taken aback. 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.
How do you make chicken salad from scratch?
To make chicken salad you either cook chicken or use leftover chicken and add a mayo dressing to it then refrigerate until cold.
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?
If you can't be bothered with poaching chicken (I feel ya) just throw your chicken breasts in a crockpot on low for 5 to 6 hours until the chicken is cooked through and pulls apart easily. This is actually my favorite way to cook shredded chicken cause it's so dang easy. Buuutttt sometimes I forget to do this ahead of time and in that case poaching does the trick.
This is not a rotisserie chicken salad recipe as I have not tried it with rotisserie chicken. I assume it will work but you may have to add more or less dressing as a rotisserie chicken has a lot of dark meat with more moisture than chicken breasts.
How to poach your chicken:
Place 3 chicken breasts in a large saucepan and add 5 cups of cold water and 2 ½ t. kosher salt. Turn the heat on medium high and let the water come to a low simmer. Flip the chicken breast with a fork and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breast.
The chicken breast should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a kitchen thermometer. I pierced one with a fork, raised it up a little and temped it right over the pot. Just be careful if you do it this way too.
Place chicken breasts straight into a stand mixer and mix on low until chicken is shredded. Add the mayo dressing and mix again until fully incorporated. Scoop it out with a spatula into a bowl and refrigerate until cold.
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 Variations:
Here's some other delicious chicken salad recipes with just a few tweaks!
For a Healthy Chicken Salad Recipe: Substitute ¼ 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: I love a chicken salad recipe with grapes! Slice grapes in half and chop up some walnuts for a sweet juicy bite and delightful crunch. I like to do this and then scoop it onto baby spinach. Drizzle it with balsamic vinaigrette for a delightful salad.
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 Chicken Salad Recipe - 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. If you like this recipe, check out my grilled chicken salad recipe with homemade honey mustard!
How long is homemade chicken salad good for?
Technically chicken salad that hasn't been left on the counter for a long time will last 3 to 5 days in the fridge. I like to eat it before the three day mark because I think it tastes the best within this window.
Be sure to store it in an airtight container in the fridge and don't leave it on the counter for 3 hours
Simple Chicken Salad Recipe
- Large Saucepan
- Stand mixer
- Meat Thermometer
For the shredded and chopped chicken:
- 2 large chicken breasts
- 5 Cups Cold Water
- 2 ½ t. kosher salt
For the dressing:
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- ½ lemon, squeezed
- ½ 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 ½ t. kosher salt and turn on the heat to medium high.
- Let chicken come to a simmer and then using tongs or a fork flip chicken breasts over. We are going for long and slow, not boiling.
- Let the chicken simmer for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts. Remove chicken from water when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Immediately place chicken into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Mix on low speed until shredded. Add dressing gradually until all the way coated but not overdressed. I had a small amount left.
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.