How to CookChicken

How to Make Chicken Salad Without a Recipe

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Managing Editor Kenzi Wilbur continues on her mayonnaise crusade -- this time with chicken salad. Make this week’s lunches better.

chicken salad

I spent years thinking of foods like chicken salad and egg salad as the proverbial black sheep of lunchtime, and thus I would become a black sheep myself if I were to pull something resembling either one out of my lunchbox. These were sandwiches your grandmother ate in her nursing home -- they weren’t in vogue and they smelled weird and all of these things were childhood lunchroom suicide.

But, as I grew out of the stretch pants and over-sized horse T-shirts I wore during this discerning phase, I likewise grew out of my hatred for things unabashedly slathered in mayo. The thing is: Foods unabashedly slathered in mayo are good. Really good.

And so I add chicken salad to my bland-foods-with-mayonnaise canon (see also: Sauce Gribiche, deviled eggs without a recipe, potato salad). It’s the same principle (bland thing, brighteners, hella herbs, and mayo), this time applied to last night’s roasted chicken.

Here’s how to be proud of your chicken salad, without a recipe:

1. Style your mise en place. I'm kidding -- do not do this. Throw haphazardly on your kitchen counter the following: your leftover chicken, mayonnaise (homemade is best but not mandatory), and a bunch of brighteners. For two smallish chicken breasts, I use about 1/4 cup mayo, a few tablespoons of chopped cornichons, a heaping spoonful of stone ground mustard, a bit of lemon zest, and a mess of chopped herbs. The latter usually amounts to a scant handful -- I like tarragon, parsley, and chives -- but that amount is flexible, much like the rest of these ingredients are. This is a Not Recipe! Let your tastes be your guide.  

chicken salad ingredients


2. Skin your chicken, if it isn't already, and pull it apart into long, wispy pieces. You can use two forks if you really want to, but hands are best. Get in there.

how to make chicken salad

More: Try our co-founder Merrill's favorite roast chicken with garlic and herb pan sauce.


3. To your pile of freshly-pulled chicken, add the rest of your ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup of mayo. (You can always add more later.) Zest about a half a lemon over the top -- I find this to be something like a secret weapon, but if it's not your thing, leave it out. 

how to make chicken salad


4. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the top, and mix. Taste, and adjust: Is it a bit dry? Add more mayo. Not bright enough? More lemon. Is it perfect because you're an ace in the kitchen? As you were.  

how to make chicken salad


5. Toast a thick slice of bread, track down an especially crunchy leaf of romaine, and pile your chicken salad on top of it all. Scarf it down proudly. 

how to make chicken salad

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Weeknight Cooking, (Not) Recipes