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Peachy Keen Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

Chicken Salad Days

A few weeks ago Julia Moskin wrote an article in the New York Times about chicken salad and Southern luncheons. I love chicken salad — as do many Southerners. It most often contains mayonnaise, which is not merely a condiment in the South. Mayonnaise is more like a food group for my people. However, I got the feeling while reading the article that some folks outside of the South have perhaps forgotten about just how great chicken salad can be, that there’s a slight retro vibe to chicken salad.

I’ve been on blog hiatus for a bit working on the photography for the Secrets of the Southern Table cookbook with Angie Mosier. She and I were driving in South Louisiana to see a rice harvest (check out this short video on my Instagram page) when we started up a conversation about our mutual love for chicken salad. We both travel a lot both together and separately and try to stay away from fast food. Grocery store-bought chicken salad and a handful of saltines or a few spears of Romaine as a scooper often saves the day.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

Additions and Enhancers

Store-bought chicken salad can be tricky – it’s often packed with all sorts of stabilizers, preservatives, and sugar. Whole Foods Market makes a good one and there are fans of the tubs of chicken salad found at Costco, although I think it’s a bit sweet. In the end, Angie and I agreed that even semi-bad chicken salad can be pretty good.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

 

How to Make Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is great for sandwiches, and as Julia pointed out in her piece, it’s elevated served in a lettuce cup. Most chicken salad starts with all white meat – shredded, chopped, or finely chopped. I know it’s heresy, but I don’t mind a little bit of dark meat in the mix. I prefer cooked dark meat chicken in general as it’s moister and more flavorful. However, the color of dark meat can look odd with chicken salad so keep that in mind.

Some folks add chopped onion, celery, grapes, or pecans. Mama adds grated hard-cooked eggs, apples, and finely chopped onion. She says eggs make the chicken salad “go further” and the added bonus is that they also make it extra creamy.

I like chicken salad with just mayonnaise and fresh herbs like Zabar’s. However, when  I am adding fruit I don’t stop at traditional grapes or apples. With chicken salad on my mind after reading Julia’s article, I whipped up a batch for lunch and included chunks of sweet, juicy Georgia peaches.

How to Cook Chicken

Julia suggests that rotisserie chicken is asking for a chicken salad disaster and that the best way to obtain the perfect chicken is to poach it at a bare minimum simmer.  If I have the time I am a proponent of slowly baking chicken for chicken salad. When I was the Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart Living Television, Martha walked into the test kitchen with a Chicken Salad Sandwich from Zabar’s in NYC. She instructed me to duplicate the recipe. “Yes ma’am,” I said.  (Because, you know, when Martha tells you to do something, you do it.) After rigorous testing, we found the key to moist, tender, and flavorful chicken was to slow roast the chicken on the bone at a very low temperature so the results would be as juicy as possible. In the end, I agree slow cooking is best, but sometimes my life just isn’t tailored for gently cooking chicken — and sometimes the rotisserie is the way to go.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

I hope you enjoy this super simple recipe for Peach Chicken Salad with Arugula and Almonds. Peaches and almonds are closely related so they enhance the flavor of one another. The sweetness of the peaches contrasts nicely with the sharp bitterness of the arugula. It’s all tossed together with just enough mayonnaise and yogurt to coat, making a very refreshing supper for a hot summer evening or midday meal. I’ve included instructions on slow roasting bone-in breasts — or using rotisserie chicken if that’s how your life needs to be. Best of all, the chicken/mayonnaise part can be cooked (or assembled) ahead and tossed with the lettuce and the peaches at the last minute.

Many thanks to Julia for the inspiration. Please let me know what you think. Check out my events page for upcoming classes, dinners, and appearances. Keep in touch.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawilis.com


Chicken Salad with Peaches and Almonds

Serves 4

4 (8-ounce) bone-in chicken skin-on breast halves OR 1 rotisserie chicken
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons 2 % Greek yogurt
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 cups arugula or baby spinach
2 peaches, pitted and chopped
extra virgin olive oil, for seasoning
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 300°F. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and place in a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle over the oil. Bake until the juices run clear, about 1 hour to 11/4 hours, depending on the size of the breasts. Remove to a rack to cool. When cool enough to touch, remove the skin from the breasts. Pull the meat from the bone. Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl OR remove the breast meat from 1 rotisserie chicken and cut into 1-inch cubes.

One way or the other, you’ll need about 4 cups of cooked chicken.

Place the chicken in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and mustard. Stir to just combine. Add the arugula, peaches, and almonds. Stir to combine and coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle with optional olive oil. Serve immediately.

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