Spent Less, Eat Better: Deconstructing the World's Best Chicken Salad
By Deborah Salomon
"Mom, you make the world's best chicken salad," my son said, decades ago.
He knew flattery would net him a steady supply. Not until a few more objective tasters made similar comments did I think hey, maybe I'm onto something.
I was reassured when a bridge club commissioned this chicken salad for a luncheon (50 women - terrifying).
I remembered this recently when whole chickens were on sale for 79 cents a pound.
That's the first ingredient; you can't make sensational chicken salad out of boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breasts. You can, however, simmer an extra non-boneless breast with the whole chicken. And you will need a food processor.
What makes this chicken salad different is the additions and the prep.
Start with a plump (about 4 pounds) whole chicken. Wash it well, inside and out. Cover with water, add an onion, several carrots, a few tough outer celery ribs and salt. Simmer more than an hour, until meat is falling off the bones. Lift chicken out of broth, cool slightly, remove skin and, while still warm, remove meat from bones. This includes wing meat and the two precious "oysters" from the back. Cut meat across the grain into medium-sized chunks. Use scissors to prevent shredding. You should have about 4 cups, more if you simmered an extra breast.
Now, cut up a celery heart (pale inner ribs and leaves) and put pieces in processor, along with two scallions (white and green parts), a big handful of parsley leaves, a small handful of stemmed fresh dill fronds (available in much-too-expensive packets at Harris Teeter and Fresh Market) and about six bread-and-butter pickle rounds. Process until chopped; add to the still-warm chicken, which absorbs flavors better than cold.
Stir in, with a rubber spatula, just enough Hellmann's mayo to hold the ingredients together. For this, Hellmann's has a better consistency than Duke's. Season with sea salt and white pepper. Pat down chicken salad, cover and refrigerate several hours, preferably overnight. This is a dense, not wet chicken salad.
Optional: Celery salt for part of plain and a tablespoon of bread-and-butter pickle juice. Substitute reduced-fat mayo for part of regular.
I have two favorite ways to serve chicken salad.
The first: a scoop sprinkled with paprika, in a firm, crisp iceberg lettuce cup. The second: buy best-quality crusty bakery French or sourdough mini-baguettes. Slice horizontally, pull out some of the interior, fill the "boats" with chicken salad, top with a single romaine or red garden lettuce leaf and cut diagonally into halves or thirds.
Garnish with radish roses and carrot curls: Cut long slices from thick carrots with a vegetable peeler. Roll up, secure with toothpicks, submerge in cold water and refrigerate overnight. Remove toothpicks before serving.
Maybe not absolutely the world's best chicken salad but plenty good enough for a special occasion, I guarantee.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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