Chicken salad.

From M., 3 February 2010, A good recipe for chicken salad?

Q: I have some delicious left over roast chicken and am trying to think of a good chicken salad recipe. Do you have any ideas?

A: Thanks for your question. Whether it’s warm or cold outside, chicken salad is a good way to use up leftover chicken, since you don’t have to reheat it and risk drying it out.

You can think of chicken salad two ways – the filling in a chicken salad sandwich, which tends to be bound with mayonnaise, or the protein element in a main course salad, which does not. Both provide good opportunities to learn how to build a good dish.

Do you remember the “map of the tongue” that supposedly established four types of taste buds? When I was a kid, we learned that the tongue has four types of taste buds – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter – and that discrete zones on the tongue are responsible for sensing each of these basic tastes. This taste theory has been debunked, and in many other societies, the idea that there exist only four basic tastes never took hold in the first place. Piquancy, or heat, and savoriness, or umami, long have been recognized in various Asian societies; others also recognize pungency, astringency, coolness, herbaceousnesss, licorice, and heartiness (kokumi in Japanese), although some of these arguably are a matter of sensation rather than taste.

Classic, but debunked, tongue map.*

Why am I telling you all this? Because, to make a good chicken salad, you need to balance these tastes and sensations so your chicken salad is not one-note and bland, the province of fundraising lunches. Chicken salad is no different from any other dish in this respect. Roast chicken is savory, but it can be bland without a little salt and acid to push the flavors forward, a little sweetness to round things out, and a little bitterness to contrast the bland protein quality. And, in addition to balancing tastes, you need to incorporate some texture. Nothing says “hospital food” like a scoop of pasty, bland chicken shreds in mayonnaise. Vegetables and fruit bring crunch; nuts provide a bite.

Salt – sea salt, capers, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, anchovies, fish sauce (the last five also provide savor/umami)
Acid – lemon juice, lime juice, mayonnaise, aioli, vinegar
Sweetness – apple, mayonnaise, sweet chile sauce, sun dried tomato, roasted red pepper, sugar
Bitterness – watercress, arugula (rocket), olives, pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
Heat – chipotle pepper, hot chile sauce, fresh chiles, ginger, horseradish, wasabi
Herbaceous – celery, chive, thyme, parsley, oregano, cilantro (coriander)
Licorice – fennel, anise, star anise, tarragon

Simple chicken salad

2 c diced roast chicken
2 stalks celery, small dice (1/4″)
1/2 small red onion, small dice (1/4″)
1/4 c fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 tbsp minced chives
zest of one lemon, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 to 1/2 c mayonnaise (homemade or good quality prepared), depending on taste
salt and pepper
Watercress or arugula, washed and spun dry
Bread of choice

Combine the diced chicken, celery, and red onion. In a separate bowl, combine the herbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and mayonnaise. Stir into the chicken and vegetables – add additional mayonnaise if the mixture seems dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on sliced bread with greens.

Chicken salad with tarragon and fennel

2 c diced roast chicken
1/2 bulb fennel (anise), small dice (1/4″)
1/2 small red onion, small dice (1/4″)
2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, minced
zest of one lemon, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 to 1/2 c mayonnaise (homemade or good quality prepared), depending on taste
salt and pepper
Watercress or arugula, washed and spun dry
Bread of choice

Combine the diced chicken, fennel, and red onion. In a separate bowl, combine the tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice, and mayonnaise. Stir into the chicken and vegetables – add additional mayonnaise if the mixture seems dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on sliced bread with greens.

Chicken salad with pimentón aioli and almonds

2 c diced roast chicken
2 stalks celery, peeled and small dice (1/4″)
1/2 small red onion, small dice (1/4″)
1/3 to 1/2 c aioli or allioli (homemade or good quality prepared), depending on taste
1/4 tsp pimentón
1/4 c blanched slivered almonds
salt and pepper
Romaine (cos) lettuce hearts, washed and spun dry
Bread of choice

Toast the almonds in a single layer in a 350F/180C oven until golden. Allow to cool completely.

Combine the diced chicken, celery, and red onion. In a separate bowl, combine the pimentón and aioli. Stir into the chicken and vegetables – add additional aioli if the mixture seems dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the toasted almonds just before serving. If you believe you may have leftovers, only add almonds to the portion you intend to eat.

Serve on sliced bread with lettuce.

Vietnamese chicken salad

Although this salad doesn’t exist in Vietnam – at least not in this form – the flavors are bright and true.

1/4 c lime juice
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1/4 c nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 tbsp sugar
2 small hot chiles, sliced into thin rings

1/2 small head Napa cabbage (or savoy cabbage), shredded
2 carrots, peeled and julienned (you can shred the carrots if you find it difficult to julienne)
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
2 c diced roast chicken
1/2 c cilantro (coriander) leaves
1/2 c mint leaves
optional, if available – 1/2 rau ram leaves
1/4 c unsalted roast peanuts, chopped

Combine the first five ingredients and allow to blend for at least 15 minutes.

Combine the cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and chicken. Toss with half the dressing; add more dressing if necessary. Serve with the fresh herbs and chopped peanuts.

*Courtesy MesserWoland from WikiMedia Commons.

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