I grew up eating this chicken salad and still feel it's pretty close to perfect. It's a simple, humble affair but each bit bursts with flavor. You can gussy it up or not, and you can adapt it to highlight different seasonal produce stars (subbing cherries for the grapes, fennel for the celery, slivered almonds for the pecans, for ex).
This salad makes me think of Louisiana on a hot summer day, sitting at my mom's or grandmother's kitchen table, happily surrounded by family, laughter and good food. My mom often makes a huge batch of this before any of us head home, and it never fails to delight.
The grapes and celery are so refreshing and pair winningly with lightly toasted pecans. The amount of mayo is just enough to hold everything together, provide flavor and the perfect bit of sauciness but it's never overbearing or sweaty or soupy (attributes of over-mayo'd stuff that I just detest).
You want to make this in advance so that it can chill and then be re-seasoned; like many pasta salads, the chicken soaks up lots of the lemon, salt and cinnamon, so you'll want to add more about an hour after your initial round. The ingredient amounts I provide here are for the first round; add more of each to your liking but try to strike a balance between salt, lemon and cinnamon! —em-i-lis
best-quality chicken breasts (if boneless/skinless, this is about 1.4 - 1.5 pounds)
good quality chicken broth
celery, cut in a large dice
red grapes, halved
pecan halves, lightly toasted and then chopped
Season the chicken breasts with salt.
In a saucepan or skillet for which you have the lid, place them in a single layer and then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to an active simmer, cover and poach until just cooked through, 15-20 minutes depending on size.
When done, remove the chicken from the poaching liquid (when you can then discard), and let cool.
In the meantime, prepare your celery, grapes and pecans. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, 3/4 tsp salt, cinnamon and lemon juice.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2" cubes and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the celery, grapes, pecans and mayo dressing, and toss gently until everything is well-combined.
Cover and chill for at least an hour. Re-season with salt, lemon juice and/or cinnamon to your liking.
This is great along, served with summer tomatoes, turned into a sandwich, etc.