My millennial self becomes annoyed when I can’t buy a “good” canned or prepackaged version of a foodstuff I need. I know, I know, I said earlier that I favor whole foods, and I do! But as mom to a 2-year-old, I’ve found the value in a few canned and ready-made ingredients (hellooo, Glory Foods turnip greens!)
They save time and messes and are available out-of-season, but good quality can be hard to find. After searching for a while, I get cocky and decide I can make that better than I can buy it, so I set about learning how. This recipe is a product of that.
I am allergic to nuts. And not just ground nuts or just tree nuts, no, I’m lucky enough to be allergic to both. This causes major problems in a lot of aspects of Southern life, but few more frustrating than when searching for that springtime lunchbox staple: chicken salad.
Most folks understandably put nuts in their chicken salad, I imagine for texture. Something is always unsatisfying about the variations I try without them; it’s as if there’s a big hole right in the middle of the taste.
There’s chicken, and creamy stuff holding all the salad components together, but everything else is largely indistinguishable by sight, flavor or texture. I refuse to believe that pecans make that much of an impact on a chicken salad.
This recipe was developed over several years, has many variations, and is prepared at the request of the husband at least once a month. It boasts big pieces of juicy, distinguishable fruit, hearty chunks of chicken, fresh green herbs, and real, full-bodied, nailed-it-on-the-head flavor without sacrificing texture.
SPRINGTIME CHICKEN SALAD
One whole roasted chicken, around 3 ½ pounds, bones and skin removed, cooled and chopped (see note)
Half a pound or so of red grapes, cut into halves or quarters
Fresh dill, minced
Three-ish stalks of fresh green onion, sliced thin, white and green parts alike
A large Honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and chopped fine
Salt and pepper
Optional: chopped pecans, red onion, spinach wilted in white wine, grated parmesan, a sprinkle of garlic salt, water chestnuts, etc.
Starting with the chopped chicken, build everything in a big bowl. When your bowl finally contains an impressive, striated mountain of ingredients with big snowy globs of sour cream and mayo on top, find your longest spoon and mix it all together, cover it and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Serve the salad cold, outside on a warm day, in the shade. Put it in a bowl or pita pocket with fresh alfalfa sprouts and a fat slice of heirloom tomato, and alongside sliced avocado and salty corn chips. It pairs best with a crisp prosecco or rosé, or a nice sharp pale ale.
Notice the lack of quantities in this recipe. I didn’t forget them. The truth is that there aren’t any. This recipe is blissfully number-free! That’s because this chicken salad is all to taste.
I personally love fresh dill so I use a lot — three or more tablespoons minced.
My husband does not care for the texture of the apples so I go easy on those in the big bowl, but I always add more when I make my serving.
Sour cream is tangy and mayonnaise is sweet, so use a little more of whichever one you like better, but keep the ratio close to even. I usually use around a half-cup of sour cream and a half-cup of mayo, as I don’t like my salad to be really “creamy.”
This chicken salad is great because it’s so versatile. Tender chicken with cool dill, crunchy bits of sweet apple, spicy onion, cold, juicy grapes and tangy sour cream… a salad like that can play host to a long list of delicious nibbles. Add in anything fresh you like or have on hand.
Another reason this salad is great is because it stores well in the refrigerator for about a week and provides ample snackage all week long. And the longer it sits in there, the more the flavors blend and enhance.
NOTE: Sometimes I roast a chicken myself in my cast-iron pot with a lid, and sometimes I pay $7 for a plain rotisserie chicken from Winn-Dixie. Of course it’s better if I do it myself, but having the WD do it for me is much easier and faster.
When I do roast my own bird, I like to pick one that has a lot of fat on it and weighs around 4 pounds. I wash it and pat it dry, sprinkle it all over with salt and pepper, then cut a lemon and a head of garlic in half and poke them inside.
I put the bird in a cast-iron pot with no water, but sitting on top of half a roughly chopped Spanish onion and buried under a good handful of fresh oregano and thyme from the kitchen garden.
I put the lid on and roast that baby at 325 degrees for around an hour, or until a meat thermometer tells me it’s cooked enough not to kill me.
I always, always, save the onion and fat and delicious drippings in the bottom of the pan, blend it together and freeze it for gravy at a later date. (But not the lemon and garlic. Toss those.)
Rachel Cowan Webb is a freelance food writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her baking adventures on Instagram @homemade.hip.pies.