Make Ahead

New Age Chicken Salad

June 22, 2011
0 Ratings
  • Makes 8 pita halves
Author Notes

Remember the '80s? Crystals. Pyramids. Channeling. Mood rings?! Ronald Regan legitimized the brown for crying out loud suit. Ketchup was a vegetable, while Chez Panisse over in Berkeley was flexing its muscles. I was working in San Francisco at the time. I wore business suits, just not brown ones. A new lunch spot opened near my office, easy walking distance. I don't remember the name of the place, or if I ever ordered anything but this sandwich. I have no memory of what it was even called - the New Age bit is my own. I do remember as clear as yesterday sitting down right there to eat it, a book to hand, rather than return to the office where someone might do something so uncivilized as interrupt my state of bliss with conversation. The combination of flavors was simply so perfect, bite after exquisite bite. And I don't recall that a pregnancy was involved.

I've been making it ever since in various reincarnations. When lettuce wraps sailed onto the culinary horizon, I was at the ready, matey. The original was served on a heavenly fresh dill bread; I've also used Julia Child's potato-dill bread. Sometimes during the summer, though, it is just too hot to fire up an oven for bread. So during the hot months I've taken to stuffing it into pita halves. Great camp/hiking food. Portable, a cinch to transport everything broken down to assemble at the top of the trail you've just climbed, or on a picnic table at the edge of a lake you've just swum out of. No crystals or pyramids to lug along, simply the channeling of a great lunch. And don't get me started on that brown suit . . . —boulangere

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound leftover chicken or turkey meat OR 1 pound chicken thighs
  • Olive oil
  • Sea or kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 small can diced pineapple, drained
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, 1/4" dice
  • 1 small red onion, 1/4" dice
  • 1/4 cup or so chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 ounces cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 6 ounces very good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 4 pita breads cut in half to expose the pocket
  • 1 leaf of butter, green leaf, or red leaf lettuce, washed, top half only, per half pita
  • 2 frozen gel packs (the soft-wrapped ones)
  • 2 large rubber bands
  1. This is a great way to use up some leftover chicken or turkey. I routinely roast 2 chickens at a time. It takes just as long as roasting 1, and a whole chicken full of meat pulled off and frozen for an instance such as this, well, it's sort of like finding buried treasure. Which gives you an idea of what my freezer looks like. Alternatively, rub some chicken thighs with olive oil, dust with salt and pepper, and roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. While chicken is cooking and cooling, prep the rest of the ingredients and make your dressing.
  2. Once chicken is cool, dice it into 1/2" cubes and move to a mixing bowl. Add the drained pineapple, the bell pepper, red onion, and Italian parsley. Use your hands or a spatula to toss everything together.
  3. Make the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously so as to maintain your emulsion. Whisk in the oregano, then season to taste with salt and pepper. And because everything is better with red pepper flakes, add a pinch. Add dressing to other ingredients and stir to dress everything evenly.
  4. If serving immediately, stuff a lettuce leaf into each pita half, then scoop in some filling. Repeat until all are filled. Using mini pitas as an hors d'oeuvre? You're brilliant! Just tear the lettuce leaves smaller.
  5. If traveling, wrap washed lettuce leaves in a couple of damp paper towels and store in a ziplock bag. Pack the filling into one or more ziplock bags. Place a frozen gel pack on either side of the bag(s) and secure at the top and bottom with large rubber bands. They'll keep the chicken filling cold and everything else, too. Cut pitas in half so you don't need a knife and cutting board if you weren't planning on taking them anyway. Return them to the bag they came in. Place everything inside a plastic bag that can function as a garbage bag on the return trip. Set out, and enjoy a beautiful summer day!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • TheGirlyGirlCooks
  • lorigoldsby
  • ChefMommy
  • boulangere

12 Reviews

TheGirlyGirlCooks June 28, 2011
I just mailed this recipe to my Grandpa who just had Quad-bypass surgery. He is going to love this because it is way healthier than a typical chicken salad! So tasty!
boulangere July 3, 2011
Oh, how good to know! And godspeed to his recovery.
lorigoldsby June 27, 2011
I was too busy last week and missed! My mood ring is on blue!
boulangere June 27, 2011
As long as you're not wearing a brown suit with it!
ChefMommy June 27, 2011
This was one of the best things I have had the pleasure of trying from your beautiful culinaric mind. Always with a good story and delicious food you are inspiration to me everyday. You make me unafraid to try new things and jump of that ledge of flavor risk. I hope one day I can pass on all the love I have for food as beautifully as you do. Even if it is just to my children. Thank you and I can't wait for more.
boulangere June 27, 2011
Especially to your children! As I'm sure you are already in the process of doing.
boulangere June 22, 2011
Seriously, thanks for the reminder about mood rings.
boulangere June 22, 2011
LOL! You noticed!
boulangere June 22, 2011
OMG remember those days? And ketchup was a vegetable.
boulangere June 22, 2011
Why is that not surprising?
boulangere June 22, 2011
Ay yi yi!
boulangere June 22, 2011
Seriously! Whatever the epoch, whatever the mood(ring).