On the pendulum of taste, chicken salad has two extremes; dry and flavorless, or swimming in enough mayonnaise to make you almost believe that it’s not dry and flavorless. Somewhere in between lies perfection; moist, tender and bursting with flavor chicken salad with just enough mayo to hold everything together. A salad so good that you could eat the whole bowl. Not that I have ever done that, at least not in one sitting.
There are two essential ingredients and a no-fail cooking method that make this chicken salad so magically delicious:
Tarragon: Tarragon is the yin to chicken’s yang. Sweet and with a hint of fennel, tarragon brings out the best in chicken.
Raisins or dried cranberries: Bring a little sweet and tart to the party with these dried fruit. Chop them up fine so that you get a hint in every bite. If you like more tart than sweet, use the cranberries.
The Method: Since one post can’t possibly have too many analogies, lets think of perfectly poached chicken breast as Dr. Jekyll, and dry, overcooked chicken breast as Mr. Hyde. All it takes is a little too much heat to go from the good, to the bad and the ugly. The poaching method in this recipe is my chicken salad’s BFF. Use bone in breast with the skin on, or you might get a visit from Mr. Hyde despite your best efforts.
My Favorite Chicken Salad
2 lbs skin on, bone in chicken breast
1 cup (3-4 stalks) finely diced celery
½ cup raisins soaked for 15 minutes in hot water and finely chopped
½ cup red onion, finely diced
½ cup lightly toasted slivered almonds
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Place chicken in a single layer in a deep skillet or pot and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes*. Remove the pot from the heat and let the chicken steep for an additional 15 minutes. Let the chicken cool until you can handle it comfortably. Remove the skin and bones, and then cut into half inch pieces, or shred into strips along the grain, similar to pulled pork.
Add the remaining ingredients to a bowl with the cooled chicken and stir to combine. Serve as a salad or as a sandwich filling.
*If for some reason you feel the burning need to use boneless skinless chicken breast, reduce the cooking time by about half.