April 27, 2011

Chicken Salad Salad.

Yep.. you read the title right.

No, it's not a typo. You'll get it in a minute, I promise.

In my younger years, I wasn't very adventurous with food (hence my grits anxiety, see this post).
If my parents ever managed to get me to try something new, one of two things would happen:

I would love it, and would add it into my (short) rotation of meals I would eat. If it was in a restaurant I would order the same thing EVERY time.
-OR-
I would hate it, and would never go near it again. No matter who makes it for me, how great it looks, whatever you wanna call it.. I'm not having it.

When I left home for college and started preparing meals myself, I found that I was starting to really enjoy cooking; and by extension.. food. Eating food and ENJOYING food are two very different things it turns out. And once my eyes were opened, so were my mind and palate. It's still a work in progress, I still haven't brought myself to trying every single thing I wrote off as a child, but I definitely am making my way down the list.

In high school, chicken salad sandwiches were one of the items on my 'will eat' list.
(Looking back, my mother must have had a hard time managing two different lists for her two very picky children.. good thing Mother's Day is coming up, she really could use some pampering)
I would only eat chicken salad sandwiches from two places, however: a caterer that my parents used for cocktail parties and gatherings, and my school cafeteria. They were very different of course; the caterer served theirs as finger foods for a crowd, the sandwiches formed a ring that looked like a bundt and the chicken sat on bread topped with sesame seeds. At school the sandwiches were made with white sandwich bread, sliced on the diagonal, and wrapped in wax paper.

Despite the difference, the two sandwiches had one thing in common. The chicken salad. Shredded chicken and mayonnaise. That's it.

Of course I loved it then... there was nothing to taste.

When I started cooking, I would think of the foods I loved to eat and try to replicate it on my own. When the chicken salad sandwich came up, I started doing my usual prep work.

The ingredient list looked something like this:

Bread
Chicken
Mayonnaise

Then, my 17 year old self thought something like this:
"This can't be right.. Then why did it taste so good? They must have made it with a flavoured mayonnaise or something. Yeah right, this is a high school cafeteria we're talking about. Ugh, this shouldn't be so hard. Think... Chicken Salad.. Wait, why is it even called a salad? What defines something as a salad anyway? Shouldn't you be able to eat a salad on it's own? I wouldn't eat chicken and mayonnaise on it's own.. bleh."

So, through the subsequent years of (still ongoing) research and experimentation, my chicken salad has evolved into a meal in itself. I have served it at family brunch, packed it as part of my father's lunch to take to work, made it for friends... and everyone loves it. The 17 year old in me is dancing around with pride and joy.

Much like my tomato sauce, I never make this the same way twice. Again, what's on hand plays a big part in what goes in the salad. But the basics are always the same.

I start by shredding up some roasted chicken. My mother roasts a chicken every Sunday afternoon, so I usually make the salad on Sunday night with the leftovers so that we all have lunch to carry with us on Monday mornings. It makes a big difference if the chicken is well seasoned on it's own. No matter what you put in the salad, if the chicken tastes like cardboard on it's own, it's just going to taste like cardboard covered in a really yummy dressing when you're done.

You can use white or dark meat, whichever you prefer. I use white. To the chicken add brown (deli style) mustard, mayo, chopped sweet pickles (and just a splash of the brining liquid it is packed in), cubed apples or halved grapes (or both!), chopped tomatoes, chopped parsley, chopped rosemary, and a splash of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

For one serving (about half a cup of chicken), I add about a tablespoon each of the condiments, quarter (1/4) cup each of the fruits, and a teaspoon each of the herbs. This is a very rough estimation, next time I make it I will do a step by step post with precise quantities.Of course you can make the salad to suit your own tastes: use other fruits such as pears, oranges, or pineapples (love that idea, I'm gonna try that next time!); add more mayo and less mustard if you're not a fan of the taste... you can use sweet relish instead of pickles if you're tired of chopping. The idea is to make the salad full of flavour, colourful, and great on it's own.

Enjoy!

I serve this on a bed of lettuce leaves and topped with slices of tomato and apple

6 comments:

  1. Love the posts...but the font is still a bit hard to read...:s

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  2. I like how your tied in your love of chicken salad with memories from home. And I just love fruit in chicken salad, along with fresh herbs. Sometimes I use raisins, cranberries or nuts. When you try it with pineapples, let us know. Very nice!

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  3. Thanks so much Lin! Everyone has one of those recipes that just brings them back to their childhood... those are the best kind :) I love the idea of cranberries in the salad.. It really is such a versatile dish!

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  4. Mmm this looks delicious! So glad to be your newest follower :)
    http://cookskinny.blogspot.com/

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  5. Salad sounds good. I love chicken, so this is perfect for me. And memories from childhood are always great! Love the post.

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  6. Thanks Kelly and Christine! And thanks so much for following, I was so nervous about starting the blog I'm glad you guys like it :)

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