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blog-rotisserie chicken1

Aside from the “fiesta” or “Oriental” versions found at some chain restaurants, chicken salad has pretty much been relegated to the Nostalgia Department: suitable fare for tearooms (of the Woman’s Exchange variety and otherwise), drug-store lunch counters (here’s a marvelous Lewis Hine image), and southern porch suppers, circa 1955.

I don’t know why. I suppose people are afraid of the fat in mayonnaise—common to most recipes—or perhaps the technique of poaching—ditto—is a hurdle. This should change. Chicken salad should become a trend.

I’m halfway through the vastly entertaining Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, by my pal David Sax, so I’m practicing that sort of mindset. I mean, if I had a restaurant—a little café, say—I’d feature a chicken-salad sandwich of the week. Or maybe I’d serve nothing but chicken salad; if one of the whiz kids behind the grilled-cheese-restaurant phenomenon wants to diversify, we should talk.

No matter what, though, I’ll keep chicken salad in my regular rotation at home. In a perfect world, obviously, I’d always take the time to gently poach chicken breast halves, complete with bones and skin: Not only is that one key  to flavorful yet clean-tasting meat (along with using a wholesome pastured bird), but the light broth is handy for moistening the salad if it starts to dry out—a trick I learned back in my Gourmet days. Life has a tendency to get in the way, however, and I’m here to remind you that you can make delicious chicken salad from leftover sautéed or roasted chicken … or a store-bought rotisserie bird.

For sheer speed and efficiency, it’s hard to beat that last option, so I’m always a little shocked when I meet people in the food world who are snooty about spit-roasted chickens, one of the world’s great convenience foods. Have they ever been to an outdoor market in France, I wonder? The queue for poulet rôti should be a tip-off that it’s an honest, worthy substitute for a home-roasted chicken in many a French kitchen.

And in mine, too. I’ll often buy two on the way home in the evening—one for eating that night, with some harissa-slicked couscous and quick-cooked greens, for instance—and the other for salad, later in the week. While it’s still warm, I’ll strip it of bones and skin, shred both white and dark meat, and combine it with the dressing. Simple.

As far as recipes for chicken salad go, I like having a repertoire. Several old-school renditions are embellished with toasted slivered almonds and grapes, cut lengthwise in half. A famous one, which is rich and light all at the same time, was created by Helen Corbitt, the renowned Texas cooking authority who gave us Texas caviar and poppy-seed dressing. Other versions utilize a 1:1 ratio (or to taste) of mayonnaise and sour cream, and utilize green grapes instead of red ones. This sort of chicken salad is utterly predictable and absolutely wonderful. You’ll want to serve it on your mother’s china.

Another favorite is this one, adapted from the Village TeaRoom, in New Paltz, New York, by my former Gourmet colleague and longtime friend Kempy Minifie. Some of the usual suspects (mayo, sour cream, and almonds) are there, but cilantro, jalapeño, and lime juice add freshness and verve.

Lately, though, I’ve been relying on pantry staples—in particular, Major Grey’s mango chutney and dry-roasted nuts—as well as a picked-up-on-the-run rotisserie bird to put a chicken salad supper on the table fast and without turning on the oven. What takes it out of the Coronation Chicken realm (talk about the 1950s) are the additions of fresh cilantro, basil, and mint (already outgrowing their pots), and large, voluptuous leaves of butterhead lettuce, for making Southeast Asian–style roll-ups.

Fast-Track Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney and Cashews

1 medium red onion, chopped

1  jar Major Grey’s-style mango chutney (8 to 9 ounces), chutney cut into smaller, bite-size pieces if it’s too chunky

½ cup mayonnaise (I’m a lifelong fan of Duke’s brand)

Fresh lime juice, to taste

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 rotisserie chicken (about 3 pounds), skin and bones discarded and meat shredded

2 to 3 celery stalks, chopped

Dry-roasted whole cashews or peanuts, coarsely chopped, to taste

1 large butterhead lettuce such as Bibb, leaves separated, left whole, washed, and spun dry

Handfuls of fresh cilantro, basil, and/or mint sprigs, washed and dried

Sliced radishes and/or seedless cucumber (not necessary, but the crunch is nice)

1. Stir together the onion, chutney, mayo, and lime juice in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. (If you’re going to be adding salted nuts, keep that in mind.) Gently stir in the chicken until thoroughly combined. Give the flavors a chance to mingle for 20 or 30 minutes.

2. Just before serving, gently stir in the celery and cashews. Spoon the chicken salad onto a platter and arrange the roll-up fixings (lettuce cups, herbs, and vegetables) around it so everyone can serve themselves. Your mother’s china, optional.


Comment from Kathy
Time September 4, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I agree with you on the rotisserie chickens; they are a great convenience, and the remains make a flavorful stock. My favorite chicken salad is simple: mayo, Dijon mustard, and fresh or dried tarragon. Delicious!

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