Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chicken salad days

I've always loved chicken salad.  High on my food nostalgia list is the chicken salad sandwich from the old Stewart's Tea Room in Louisville, one of those gracious dining spots in old-fashioned department stores where little old ladies would stop for a bite after a hard morning of shopping.  Younger women like me who worked within a couple of blocks of the store would also pop over for lunch when we needed some comfort food, and if we really needed comforting we might stop at the candy counter on the way back to the office and buy one piece of chocolate apiece for dessert.  (Men wouldn't be caught dead in the place.)

But low on my food nostalgia list are a lot of chicken salads I've ordered with mystery ingredients and strange dressings that made me think "never again."  I don't like pickle relish in my chicken salad, nor raw onions or carrots or dried cranberries or raisins, nor chow mein noodles, nor so much watery miracle whip that it  turns your toast soggy and runs down your face when you bite.  And I'm sure I've repressed a lot of other strange things that I've eaten under the guise of chicken salad. 

I would keep track of lunch restaurants by whether I liked the chicken salad and/or the tuna salad, and found that the ones where I didn't far outnumbered the ones where I did. 

For many years I've indulged myself in a container of chicken salad from the ready-to-eat counter at Kroger on days when I need a little something special, like on the way home from the hospital after outpatient surgery.  Kroger used to make two kinds of chicken salad, one with artichoke hearts and one with red grapes.  I much preferred the artichoke version, so of course they quit making it.  The grape version is OK, although I practiced delayed gratification and immediately ate up all the grapes so I could enjoy the rest of the salad unadulterated.  The salads from other groceries, many of which I bought and ate in my car in the parking lot or in motel rooms, were sometimes good, sometimes less so.

For some reason it had never occurred to me to make my own chicken salad, until I found myself with a three-pound pack of boneless breasts, only a half-pound of which were needed for my culinary emergency.  What to do with the rest????

I decided to poach them and turn some of them into salad.  There was celery in the fridge, and mayo, and this bare-bones recipe turned out to be the best chicken salad since Stewart's Tea Room closed its doors decades ago.  And best of all, there was enough for a couple of lunches and a couple of  breakfasts.

I was pleased at how quickly the chicken cooked (maybe 20 minutes at a simmer) and how easy it was to assemble the salad.  But three-ingredient recipes are always pretty easy.  Sometime in the future I might add some chopped walnuts, or mix some pesto in with the mayo, or add lettuce to a sandwich.  Or maybe not.  Plain was just about perfect.


  1. I'm just getting over a bad cold and nothing has sounded good to eat, but now after reading this I think I could go for a simple homemade chicken salad on toast. My mom used to always use toasted wheat Bunny Bread, which is probably not that nutritionally great but was always toasty and good. There used to be a great little tea room inside Marshall Fields on State Street but now it's changed and everything is trendy. Sometimes you just want tomato bisque with a simple toasted cheese sandwich.

  2. K -- sorry I can't send some over to you. Or a nice grilled cheese. Comfort food always helps you get better fast.

  3. I LOVE chicken salad...adulterated with fruit or no....One memorable one I had in New Haven, CT was an amazing mideastern version which I never could quite figure out how to replicate....I'd give my eyeteeth for that one!

    I also love egg, I'm going to have to figure out what I'm going to make first...the chicken or the egg!

    Thanks! Lisa