Debates will rage till the end of time about what should have the privilege of being included in chicken salad, but the real truth is that good chicken salad is all about the technique, and less about the actual ingredients. The delicious lunch and picnic staple expertly combines well-seasoned chicken, a rich mayo dressing, plenty of fresh celery, and a touch of acid. It's then chilled until cold, giving the flavors time to meld and saturate the chicken, resulting in a refreshing, creamy, and super-satisfying snack.
We'd argue that our balance of add-ins here is the pinnacle, but once you nail the chicken and the dressing, you can feel free to spread your wings and give it your own personal flair. Whatever you add, chicken salad is just as perfect eaten on its own as it is piled on a croissant with a side of pasta salad at a BBQ, or dolloped on a bed of leafy greens at brunch.
How to prepare the chicken for chicken salad:
You can’t have amazing chicken salad without perfectly cooked chicken that’s seasoned, juicy, and relatively lean. Including dark meat in a chicken salad is common, but we think it can make the overall dish a little too soft and fatty. Instead, poaching breast meat in seasoned chicken broth is an easy way to guarantee that you won't be disappointed by dry, bland chicken. If you're a bit pressed for time, a rotisserie chicken is a great option too, but fight the urge to shred the chicken. Chopping the chicken into bite-sized pieces allows for more even distribution of ingredients.
The chicken salad dressing.
Mayonnaise is king for creamy salads, but it needs a little help to keep it from weighing everything down. Adding acid in the form of full-fat Greek yogurt, lemon, and Dijon mustard will help keep things rich yet light and bright.
The best add-ins for chicken salad (and variations). The only mandatory add-ins for chicken salad are celery, some kind of onion (we like red for the pop of color), and leafy herbs (we <3 dill and parsley). Other than that, this is the fun part! Go nuts... or grapes, or avocado, or whatever your heart desires. Toasted nuts like almonds or pecans will add an extra layer of texture, and fruit will add a pop of sweetness. We chose chopped dill pickles for our ultimate add-in because of the layer of crisp, briny salt it provides. Whatever you go with, be sure to chop them into pieces all around the same size so that they distribute evenly in each bite.
Make it ahead.
Chicken salad is an ideal make-ahead recipe: It gets better as it sits. Make it a day or two ahead of time, then store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve.
If you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for around 3 days, and enjoy epic lunch sandwiches (and salads!) for days.
Have you made this yet? Let us know how it went in the comments below!
Yields: 5 cups
Prep Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Calories per Serving: 402
boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 to 4)
low-sodium chicken broth or water
seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s) or kosher salt, divided
full-fat Greek yogurt
chopped fresh parsley
plus 1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
grainy or smooth Dijon mustard
finely grated lemon zest
fresh lemon juice
stalks celery, chopped
small red onion, chopped
chopped dill pickles (about 2 spears)
freshly ground black pepper