Fancy Chicken Salad

I grew up eating chicken salad. Not “Fancy” chicken salad, just good old chicken salad made with chicken, celery, egg, dill pickles and mayo and to this day, that’s the way I prefer mine. Over the years, I’ve made different versions of chicken salad for my customers and all have been a hit, but nothing like the response I get from this version of fruity chicken salad that I began calling “Fancy” chicken salad on our menu at work.

I owned a catering business in Birmingham and this was a most requested recipe. At the Birmingham News, I’d make Fancy Chicken Salad, usually at least 20 pounds, and be sold out within 45 minutes of opening our doors for lunch. Customers would order it by the pound to pick up on Fridays and take home for the weekend. They liked the recipe so much, it was published in The News’ food section once. After leaving The News, I’ve worked in several corporate accounts (that’s what I am, a corporate chef) and at every account, customers line up for this recipe. I can never make enough; it sells out long before lunch ends. Every time my company moves me to a new account, the customers at the old one email talking about “missing my chicken salad”. So I’m posted this recipe for all my faithful customers, friends and readers. Like every recipe I prepare at work, this one is easy. Once you’ve chopped up the ingredients, that’s it. There is no “special ingredient”, nothing out of the ordinary that I do. The only 4 things I can say that make my recipe different from other’s chicken salad are these:

  1. Never put the chicken in a food processor, instead, tear it with your hands. We aren’t making cat food so it should resemble something from a can, which leads to the second note.
  2. Don’t use canned chicken. Take the time to boil some chicken. If you take a shortcut, it won’t taste the same. As for the chicken I use, any cut. But at work, because of what’s in inventory, it’s 95% of the time boneless, skinless breasts.
  3. If you’ve had my chicken salad before and you want yours to taste the same, use KRAFT mayonnaise. I’m not knocking Duke’s, or whatever you like, and if you’ve never had mine personally, use whatever you like, but there is a difference in mayo. I’ve made mine at work and home with KRAFT because I grew up eating KRAFT. The few times I’ve made it with Hellman’s, in my opinion, it wasn’t as good, and I don’t normally buy Duke’s because I can’t afford to pay $5 for a jar of mayo when I can get KRAFT for $2.50
  4. NEVER under any circumstances, load the chicken salad with mayo. You want just enough to hold it together. How much is that? You’ll just have to see. I don’t put a measurement because it’s hard to say. It depends on the chicken, the size pieces your chicken is, the size you cut up the ingredients, etc. You can always add more mayo but you can’t take it out. That’s a good rule of thumb for any cooking!

So now that I’ve told you my “secrets”, here’s the recipe for Fancy Chicken Salad:

  • Cooked, pulled apart chicken (about 4 cups total)
  • 1 Red Delicious Apple & 1 Granny Smith Apple
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped (I prefer to use the tops also, so don’t discard those. They have the celery flavor and the leaves add color to the chicken salad)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried, sweetened cranberries (I usually just use a whole bag from Oceanspray and don’t even measure)
  • Mayo (amount needed will depend, but will be at least 1 cup)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans or candied walnuts (optional)

That’s it! Cook chicken and shred/dice in a large bowl. Cut apples into a small dice (leaving skins on) and add to the chicken. Add the celery and dried cranberries. Mix in mayo, just enough to hold all ingredients together. You don’t want it “swimming in mayo”. Toss in some nuts if you like (I do sometimes, don’t others. Depends on my mood and who I’m serving. A lot of people have nut allergies). Season with salt and pepper (this too is up to you and your taste buds.. add some, taste it, add more if you think it needs it).

It’s great to eat on top of a green salad, made into a sandwich or wrap, or splurge and enjoy it on a buttery croissant!

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