Inspired by Waldorf salad. Just add chicken.
In case you have not yet noticed, I have a soft spot for classic, even retro, food like egg salad and deviled eggs. Also, chicken salad. (I have not, however, gone so far as to crave a Jell-o mold.)
Chicken salad makes a perfect lunch or summer dinner — or really, a great anytime food to just have in the fridge. The best chicken salad recipe is more than a bad mashup of chicken and mayo. Great chicken salad, like this, comes filled with texture and flavor, with just enough mayo to hold it all together and add a little light richness.
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This chicken salad is made in the style of the classic Waldorf salad. Maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky created Waldorf salad at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1893. Waldorf salad has gone through many iterations since then. But the general idea is a salad of chopped apples, celery, and walnuts, bound with mayonnaise and served with crisp lettuce.
Using this classic Waldorf combo as a base makes the best chicken salad recipe. We’re using apples, celery, mayo, and walnuts, plus other ingredients like fresh scallion and tarragon, for something truly special and flavorful, balanced and crisp. Chicken cooking and cooling time aside, chicken salad takes minutes to make and will keep for a few days in the fridge.
Serve atop toast or crisp salad greens, or enjoy straight from the bowl.
The Best Chicken Salad
- 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cooled
- 1 stalk fresh celery, sliced thin
- 1 medium-sized crisp apple, such as Pink Lady or Honeycrisp, diced
- 2 scallions, green and light green parts only, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, minced
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup good mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's or Best, depending on your taste
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 15 turns or so freshly-cracked black pepper
- To cook the chicken: Bring a medium-sized pot to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Poach the chicken breasts for 20 to 25 minutes in simmering water, until fully cooked and not pink in the center. Let cool fully, covered, in the fridge for about 30 minutes before proceeding. Can be made up to two days in advance.PRO TIP: Make sure the water does not boil when poaching chicken. This will toughen the meat. Also, this is a good time to prep your other ingredients.
- Dice the cooled chicken into 1/2" to 1" chunks.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients: the chicken, celery, scallions, herbs, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, apple, walnuts, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and see if you'd like to add a tablespoon or two more mayonnaise.
- Serve on its own, or as a sandwich or on top of crisp salad greens.