I love chicken salad. Few things disappoint me more than a poorly made chicken salad. You know what I mean. Tough, bland chicken, lack of seasoning, tons of mayo to compensate… you feel queasy after the 2nd bite. There’s no flavor, no layering, no balance, no love; nothing but boiled chicken and mayo (and sometimes a little celery if you’re lucky).
Or you can come across something amazing. Something that will enchant you, dazzle you, and make you love chicken salad again. Something truly unique. I think to think my chicken salad will do just that. Or come close.
If you look at the components of chicken salad, you will by default be breaking it down into individual flavor profiles. This is, once again, the beginning of flavor layering and finding the coveted balance we want to achieve.
Great chicken salad begins with great chicken. There are so many ways you can cook the chicken, and each one done properly will yield a unique and wonderful flavor. Perfect roast, grill, poach, braise, and so on. I like to roast the chicken for chicken salad, which in itself builds tremendous flavor. Mayonnaise is necessary, but mayonnaise is of course rich, creamy and will easily overpower a dish. So we balance it. Add lemon juice, olive oil, a little mustard, and spices. Adding and relying on natural and diverse flavors will allow you to use minimal mayonnaise. Use it only as a binder; the ‘finishing’ element. With chicken, mayo, lemon juice, and dijon mustard, eggs are a natural pair. So a couple of hard boiled eggs will compliment everything in the salad with perfection and finesse.
My personal touch is the addition of fresh tarragon and a few slivered red grapes. Tarragon and grapes are a very classic (and French) pair, and they make the chicken salad light, add more diversity of flavor, and keep your palette pleasantly entertained. Put everything together, and you have a great, very unique, balanced, and very delicious chicken salad.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Inactive cook time: 3 hours
Yield: 6 portions
2 whole free range organic chickens, legs only removed
6 sprigs thyme
3 lemons, cut in half
1/2 bunch tarragon
10 red grapes
extra virgin olive oil
3 large organic eggs
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp paprika
1 bunch scallions, fine chop
1/2 bunch celery, small dice
1 head garlic, cut in half
1/2 red onion, small dice
prepared heavy mayonnaise (hellmanns is best)
cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Heat an oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil the chickens, liberally salt and pepper them inside and out. Cut 1 lemon in half, squeeze the juice over the chickens, place the squeezed half in the cavity along with 3 sprigs of thyme and the garlic. Place the chickens in an elevated roasting pan or a sheet pan lined with a wire rack. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until internal temp reads 155. Chicken should be golden brown. Remove from oven, and let cool. When you cool the chickens, make sure you leave all the meat on the bone. They will retain more juice and flavor that way.
While the chicken is cooling, cook the eggs. Place the eggs in a sauce pot, cover with cold water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, turn heat off and let sit for another 8 minutes. Drain and refresh eggs under cold water. Peel and slice thin. Reserve.
After cooling the chickens, remove the skin and coarsely shred the meat, by hand or with 2 forks. Save the bones for stock later on.
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with the celery, scallions, tarragon, onion, juice of the remaining 2 lemons, and eggs. Add enough olive oil to make the ingredients ‘glisten’, or shine (add enough to evenly coat everything). Salt and pepper liberally. Add the paprika, cayenne and mustard and mix well. Add just enough mayonnaise to lightly coat everything. You will probably find that about 1/2 cup is adequate. Remember, start with less than you think you will need. You can always add later on, but you can never remove. Check the seasoning, and adjust where you feel necessary (mostly likely if it needs anything, it will be salt, or additional lemon juice). Add the sliced grapes.
Place in a shallow platter and garnish with a sprinkle of paprika, maybe a sprig of tarragon, or grapes. In my opinion, the best way to serve this is with French croissants, Boston lettuce and sliced vine ripe tomatoes. But it’s your dish, serve it in whatever way makes you happy.