I have come to realize that I’ve been on a chicken kick. Sure I sprinkle in a little pork, beef, fish, or turkey. But there’s been a lot of chicken flying through this kitchen lately. Chicken is a “go to” for many, many people. After all, it is an inexpensive meat that is easily accessible, quick cooking, and takes on a huge variety of flavors with gusto. So, today, I’d like to share a couple of my latest chicken concoctions.
My chicken salad has been requested for showers, parties, cooking lessons, and ocean side lunches. There are a million different versions of this palate pleaser out there. Mine has morphed into my own creation over time, but it stemmed from my mom’s version. I liked mom’s because it was simple and flavorful, which is so important to me. Lots of people put apples and grapes in theirs- but I like to make a big bowl of chicken salad and eat off of it for days. I find that fresh fruit can get mushy and brown. My choice for a little sweetness is dried cranberries. They are easy to find, and they stand up to stirring and a few days in the fridge.
It all starts with simple ingredients.
Sometimes I roast a chicken for my chicken salad, and some days I use a rotisserie chicken from the store. Either way, as long as your chicken is tender, you’ll be off to a good start. Once I cleaned the meat from the bones, I went ahead and put them in a big pot, so I could make my own chicken broth.
While that’s not the cutest picture in America, it is the beginning of something rather wonderful. Lately, I’ve been saving all of my onion and garlic skins and tops and bottoms of celery, carrots, and scallions while I cook.
This batch even had some stalks of lemongrass in it. So I added the veggies to the bones and simply covered them with water.
Then, I seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper and brought it up to a boil. Once the liquid boiled, I turned the heat down and allowed it to simmer to extract all the flavor from the chicken bones and the veggies. Of course, you could skip the chicken entirely and make a vegetable broth in the same manner.
After the delightful smells in my kitchen had taunted me for more than an hour, I strained the liquid from the solids and I was armed with two large containers of chicken broth to enhance my future cooking endeavors.
Adam says that eventually I’ll be making all of my own stuff and saying, “It’s just so simple. Why buy it at the store, when you can make it yourself at home?” Haha. I’ve come quite a long way in this respect- making my own salad dressings, sauces, salsas, spice mixtures, etc. But I’ve certainly got room for growth! It’s not only empowering to build my recipes with homemade components, it also allows me to control the levels of sodium, fat, and seasoning in my food. And there are no ingredients that have names I can’t pronounce. Bonus! In addition, I avoid waste and reduce my spending. Truly a win-win situation.
Back to the chicken salad…I toasted up some almonds in a dry pan to bring out their ultimate nuttiness.
I typically employ sliced almonds in this dish, but since I had the whole ones on hand, I decided to go rustic and just roughly sliced those beauties.
While the nuts cooled, I made my dressing. One day, when I was making this salad, I had a bit of my basil pesto leftover. And I thought- why not??? The magic pesto is already loaded with herbs, garlic, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and seasoning. It made good sense to me to implement the pesto as the base of my dressing.
That way, I can impart more flavor with less work and less mayo. I tend to use a low-fat mayonnaise, but it’s still not the best ingredient to over-do. Although…I remember a time, many moons ago, before the days of health consciousness were born, enjoying my lunch of rolled up bologna slices with a beautiful mound of Hellmann’s mayo specifically for dunking. True story. I still have the love for mayo, I just try to love it responsibly.
So, the pesto and mustard make the dressing a yellow-y green, but I’m not mad about that. Some days it’s more green, and some days less- just depending on how much pesto I have. If I find myself pesto-less, I generally make an herby garlic paste to flavor the dressing.
I like to cut my onions and celery pretty small for this dish. I don’t want anyone to eat a big hunk of onion (unless it’s sweet and caramelized), but I love the kick it brings to the salad. Adam doesn’t love raw celery, but he appreciates the flavor. Ergo- very small pieces of both. I also opt for small pieces of chicken. To me, the little chunks do a better job of “becoming one” with the dressing than larger cubes. I kind of mash it all together to evoke chicken salad harmony.
Oh- and I neglected to mention that I did not have dried cranberries in the house on the day I made this salad. So, she’s missing her bright pops of red. But sometimes, you gotta make do with what you’ve got.
MMMmmmm. Creamy, crunchy, one of those “hit-the-spot” bowls of goodness. Now, you can take this bowl and a fork and call it lunch. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in my house. But, I decided to bump up the green veggie factor
with some mixed field greens. And I finished it off with those super sweet mini grape tomatoes. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar was all I needed to carry me into lunch time perfection.
You can dress it up, or dress it down. You can take it to a party or to the beach or on a hiking trip. You can snuggle up with it on the couch. Chicken salad. It’s a favorite, for sure. And it’s just another example of how many ways you can put your own spin on even the oldest of classics.
I hope you have been eating well and enjoying your time in the kitchen. I’m off to plan some menus for a few clients, including a Mexican Fiesta of a dinner party one client is hosting and I’m preparing. Yay! Then I’m heading to the Farmer’s Market. Tonight’s menu is ginger lime Georgia shrimp over whole wheat lo mein noodles with stirfried veggies and a homemade peanut sauce. Better get cracking.
Happy cooking and eating to you and yours.