Chicken salad–shaken, not stirred

Trigger warning: this post contains graphic images of creamy meat salad.

voilaChicken salad and its siblings have always set off my gag reflex, for  a number of perfectly valid reasons. These include but are not limited to:

  • Quartered grapes
  • Mayonnaise
  • Celery
  • Smooth meat
  • Surprise ingredients

In other words, every single component of this so-called “salad.” But almost exactly a year ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I could make my own chicken salad, my own way. I could replace every ingredient I don’t like with one I do, and maintain complete control. Today, chicken salad. Tomorrow, the world!

It’s easy and has become one of my favorite summer foods. Here’s how I do it. You should feel free to adapt this further to meet the special needs of your own pharynx.


For me, the most time-consuming part is always the preparation of the chicken. In theory, isn’t the whole point of chicken salad that you’re supposed to use leftover chicken from another meal? Well, we’re just not really the Sunday roasted chicken kind of people. We don’t have a lot of chicken dinner leftovers lying around so when I make this, I’m usually starting from scratch.

Once I tried it with a rotisserie chicken from the store, but pulling it apart took just as much time as cooking my own chicken. Plus it was way too much meat. And it made my hands greasy and smelly for days. So now I usually just cube up some chicken breast (or whatever chicken part you like) and stir fry it a day ahead of time. Season it however you normally season chicken. I use salt, pepper, a little cumin, a little curry powder, a little ginger, and red pepper flakes. Refrigerate overnight. Then, use two forks in a futile attempt to shred the chicken somewhat uniformly, but not too small and stringy.


Share some chicken with a friend, if you wish.


For crunch, color, and bite, I use red onion instead of celery. About a quarter of a giant grocery store red onion will do. If you have a small, normal onion, lucky you, and use a little more. Chop it up nice and fine and add it to the bowl.

For sweetness and tartness, I use Craisins instead of grapes. They’re already small, so you don’t have to slice them, and they’re dried, so they don’t slime everything up. Plus obviously Craisins should be added to everything. Add a few handfuls to the bowl.


Next, toss in some almonds. Here I’ve used (pre)sliced raw ones. Sometimes I chop my own, but keeping a bag of sliced on hand saves a lot of time and prevents wasted almond shards from winding up all over your floor. Use about equal amounts of Craisins and almonds.

For my next substitution, I use Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise. You don’t want to use too much–just enough to hold everything together and give it the right consistency. Throw a couple of glops on top. Then, if you are lucky like me and have a lid for your bowl, put it on and shake everything up. Check to see how things look. Add a little more yogurt if needed and repeat.


Now, add whatever seasonings you like. You might try mustard, curry powder, the ever popular tarragon….the choices are endless. Because we like foods that speak to us through our sinuses, this time I added about a teaspoon of ground mustard and a few glops of prepared horseradish. Try to stir this evenly throughout so no one gets a startling surprise.

In our household, chicken salad may only be served on a toasted pretzel roll. Indeed, the whole reason we even decided to have it this week is because we have an unprecedented supply of pretzel rolls at the moment. My dad did a photo shoot last week for the Gonnella bread company. This involves the delivery of twelve pallets of bread products being dropped off at his studio. Most will never be used, and they cannot be returned or sold. And so, here we are:


Actually, I prefer to eat mine open face, like a pretzel tostada. And I could eat it all day long. Also good on crackers, chips, and plain.

Have you ever adapted a recipe to make it palatable?


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