Unpacking Chicken Salad
A classic explores new directions.
Picnic season is here, and blankets and baskets are emerging from hibernation. The big question is, what’s going in those baskets this summer? Chicken salad is a time-honored favorite, but if the usual path approach to making it is starting to feel more like a rut instead of a getaway, good news. There’s a lot of new terrain to explore. After all, general consensus traces chicken salad as it’s known in America to the 1860s. That’s a lot of history, but instead of looking back, it’s time to look ahead.
According to legend, the chicken salad created by a meat shop owner named Liam Gray in 1863 included chicken, mayonnaise, grapes and tarragon. Creamy and delicious, his instant classic led to new options as time passed that featured other ingredients — hard-boiled eggs, celery, pickle relish, onions, nuts, cayenne pepper and more. But the starting point is always chicken, leftover or newly prepared, cubed or shredded, all white meat or a combination of dark. From there, your journey begins.
Mr. Gray chose mayonnaise for the binder in his chicken salad. You could choose mustard, ketchup, sour cream or a blend of ingredients. Greek yogurt with gorgonzola cheese? Why not. Throw in some chickpeas. A big part of the appeal of chicken salad is contrasting textures and flavors, and all kinds of fresh veggies work perfectly, from radishes to sugar snap peas. Keep everything chilled until just before serving, and your picnic table or blanket becomes a refreshing outdoor dining experience.
Need some inspiration? A quick and easy recipe is Parisian Chicken Salad, which can be served with mixed greens or as a sandwich. An option for a complete meal is Chicken Pasta Salad with Broccoli & Grapes. The more you variations you try, the more new combinations you’ll discover.
Picnic season may not last forever, but chicken salad offers infinite potential for creating healthy, delicious meals in the great outdoors or at home sweet home.