Okay, I'll have to start this post off today by admitting that until just a few years ago I had never tried chicken salad and honestly couldn't stand the thought of it. I'm not a big mayo fan and the thought of any dish drenched in it simply did not appeal to me in the least. And while I still don't like versions of the dish that are too "wet", chicken salad has now become one of my all time favorite staples. I know, I know, don't knock it til you try it.
I've made several versions of chicken salad over the years, but this one is probably my favorite. I like my chicken chunky instead of shredded, and I also like when a few add-ons such as pecans and dried cranberries are tossed in as well. It punches up the flavor a few notches and adds a slightly different element with regards to the texture of the salad.
The below version can certainly be altered to your liking if you wish. Add some apples, grapes or walnuts to put your own twist on it. And make sure to keep an eye on the "wetness" factor of the salad. If it seems a little dry add some extra mayo and dijon. But also realize that the chicken will absorb some of the mayo mixture at first as it sits for a while.
But whatever you do make sure and follow the instructions for preparing the chicken. I beg! I discovered this little trick through Cooks Illustrated and I swear the chicken is more tender and juicy this way. And if you start off with bad chicken there is simply no hope for your chicken salad, no?
Chicken Salad inspired by Cooks Illustrated
4 (6-8 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 C mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1 1/2 celery stalks, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 C pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/3 C craisins, chopped (craisins are cranberry raisins)
1 Tbsp minced fresh tarragon
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place chicken in pot of salted water over heat until water temperature reaches 170 degrees. Turn off heat, cover pot and let stand until internal temperature of chicken reached 165 degrees. (Takes 15-20 minutes)
Remove chicken from water and place on paper towel lined plate or tray. Place chicken in fridge to cool completely. Once cooled, chop into small chunks.
Whisk together mayo, lemon juice, mustard, fennel, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add chicken to mayo mixture and add all other remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
*You can certainly serve this immediately, but it always tastes better to me if I refrigerate it for a few hours and let all the flavors meld together.