When I was a child, chicken salad was boiled chicken cooked in salted water, with celery and pickles and mayo, it was good and serviceable and made a nice little tea sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. In other words, kind of plain. Then I discovered chicken salad with grapes and celery, great on a bed of lettuce. But it kind of left me with the idea that it could be better. In my early 20’s I had to come up with some chicken salad that could be served on sandwiches for a bridal shower and I was thinking that grapes on bread wasn’t quite the thing, also I felt like the chicken needed more flavor. So I tried to think of a way to make it better. Chicken is a wonderful thing, it will absorb the flavor of what you cook with it. I was thinking first thing cook the chicken so it has more flavor, and instead of grapes use crushed pineapple, and for crunch use chopped pecans. I had made in my young past a particularly taste filled soup when I stewed the chicken with lots of vegetables and the chicken itself needed no additional seasoning, so I started there…
You can start with a whole chicken, or parts, or if you are really in a hurry boneless skinless chicken breasts. But the key is… you must cook your own chicken (stay off the canned chicken aisle at the supermarket that is for when your dog is sick), because it is chicken salad… right? So the chicken has to taste really good. And NO rotisserie chicken doesn’t work well either, I will give you a short cut at the end just be patient.
If I do a whole chicken I always throw in a couple extra breasts just to make it meatier and to get a better ratio of white to dark meat. But remember if you do a whole chicken you will have to pick the chicken, however this makes the best stock you have ever tasted so be sure to strain and freeze the stock.
Get the largest pot you own (you are going to need it), you also need a lid to fit that pot,
- 1 whole chicken, plus 2 to 3 chic breast
- Other things you need, Dukes Mayonnaise 2 cans Dole Crushed pineapple in its own juice 10 to 16 ounces of whole pecans (chop them yourself they taste better)
- vegetables and spices listed below
- 8 carrots cut into 3″ pieces (don’t bother to peel them)
- 5 white onions cut in half then in quarters (3″onion aprox.)
- 8 cloves of garlic peeled slightly crushed
- 1/4 cup of whole peppercorns
- 5 dried bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons of dried rubbed sage
- 3 tablespoons of poultry seasoning
- 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 boxes of chicken broth plus enough water to cover chicken (next time you make this you’ll have the stock in the freezer)
- At least 1 teaspoon of sea salt (you will be tasting it once the chicken is cooked (about 45 minutes into the cooking) to adjust the salt levels, you may need to add more.
- Throw all of that in a really large pot on high heat and bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, perch the lid on it allowing some steam to escape and cook for aprox. 1 and 1/2 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bones. Basically what you are doing is infusing the chicken with all the flavors you want it to have without actually putting it in the salad itself. Keep the chicken covered with liquid adding broth or water as needed.
By the way no matter what I am making with chicken (casserole, soup,dressing) I use this method to cook the chicken, it is the secret to my Thanksgiving dressing and gravy, that and sautéed chicken livers, but I will be talking about that in October.
Once the chicken is done, cool it enough to get it picked good, getting rid of all the bones, gristle and skin. Strain the vegetables out of the stock and put the stock in freezer containers for the next time you make soup or chicken salad. Taste the chicken…it doesn’t need a thing, right?
Oh, by the way, while the chicken is simmering away, take the 2 cans of Dole crushed pineapple and strain them in a colander mashing all the juice out with your hands and paper towels.
Also chop about 10 to 16 ounces of pecans.
As for the sweet pickle relish, I highly recommend Wickles Pickle Relish (it is not made with high fructose corn syrup), its made the old fashioned way with sugar and peppers and cucumbers and spices in the great state of Alabama, where my best boyfriend, Nick lives. If you can’t get it where you are… here is their website http://www.simsfoods.com, you can order it there or just bug them to put it in your local store.
Now you have huge bowl of really tasty chicken, the rest is super easy. All the work is on the front end and seriously once you have this method down and start using it, you don’t even have to measure anything just throw it in the pot, so not really hard.
Take the huge bowl of shredded chicken and mixed in the well strained crushed pineapple, the chopped pecans, and then about a half cup of Wickles Relish slightly strained, taste it, if you want more pickles add more. You will notice that the mixture is already quiet moist with flavor. Now for the last thing, Dukes Mayonnaise, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup is all you need, we are looking for flavor here not drenching the flavor we already have with mayo. So add it slowly, let it still crumble a bit. Taste it, now you really understand why you made so much.
Get you a big old plate of the stuff (you know, just to make sure it really tastes good) and put the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve it with fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and crisp lettuce and ice tea.
My son really hates Mayonnaise, but he loves loves loves this chicken salad and it really doesn’t have much mayo in it.
Now for the short cut, use the braising method I described for boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 maybe 5 will fit in a 12″ skillet) on Feb. 25th 2014, “Brazen Braising” and add in small pieces of the veg and spices I listed above omitting the salt until you can taste the broth. Once cooked, shred the breasts for the chicken salad, it doesn’t make as much and you don’t have the stock to put in the freezer and it doesn’t taste quite as good but its better than having NO chicken salad. Also cut back accordingly on the pineapple (use 1 can) pickles and pecans and mayo.
Next will be more salads and a dessert or two. Happy eating!