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Exploring Chicken Salad

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Who's On First?

As I write this article, we are in the midst of a run for the Major League Baseball playoffs. My favorite (home) team is 2 1/2 games away from the Wild Card (which means that you can go to the playoffs even though you weren't the best in your division--it's kinda like handing out a fourth-place ribbon). So the baseball analogy just popped out of me. Apologies.

So, who is responsible for chicken salad?

Great Expectations

Just like the start of the baseball season, sometimes what you anticipated is not what you end up with. Chicken salad should be full of moist, succulent, flavorful bits of diced chicken. It should be brightened by fresh herbs. A bit of fruit or vegetable would not be a bad addition. And then all of it is lightly kissed with a binding of creamy dressing—perhaps a homemade mayonnaise or some low-fat Greek yogurt.

But pick up a container of chicken salad at you local deli and you will be rewarded with flabby, rubbery chicken, a mere suggestion of fruit or vegetable, and a swimming pool amount of full-fat mayonnaise.

Let's Hit the Reset Button

To fix this dilemma, perhaps we need to go back to the source. How conceived the idea of "chicken salad?" According to the folks at Willow Tree Farm (a poultry producer in Massachusetts):

We can thank the Chinese for being the first to serve variations of “chicken salad.” Of course, these versions were far from what we are familiar with today, but the general idea was pieces of chicken mixed with a variety of spices and oils, always tied together by a binding substance.

But that's not the end of their tale. They go on to say:

Jump to 1863 in U.S. history, and the first American version of chicken salad was served at Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island. The founder of Town Meats, Liam Gray, mixed his leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes. The item became so popular that the meat market was turned into a delicatessen and the business was still operating up until a couple years ago. So that’s that. After another 100 years or so the Willow Tree version came along, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I Hate to Disagree With the "Experts," But...

Old menus and cookbooks give clear evidence that mixtures of minced chicken and mayonnaise were well known in Colonial times, probably popularized by German settlers. Here is a recipe that I found in the 1845 cookbook Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches by Eliza Leslie. (I have edited the text slightly to correct spelling and grammar to current standards.)

Prepare the meat and vegetables

The fowls for this purpose should be young and fine. You may either boil or roast them. They must be quite cold. Having removed all the skin and fat, and disjointed the fowls cut the meat from the bones into very small pieces, not exceeding an inch.

Wash and split two large fine heads of celery, and cut the white part into pieces also about an inch long; and having mixed the chicken and celery together, put them into a deep china dish, cover it, and set it away.

Prepare the dressing

It is best not to prepare the dressing till just before the salad is to be eaten, that it may be as fresh as possible.

Have ready the yolks of eight hard-boiled eggs. Put them into a flat dish, and mash them to a paste with the back of a wooden spoon.

Add to the egg

  • a small teaspoonful of fine salt
  • the same quantity of cayenne pepper
  • half a gill (1/4 cup or 2 ounces) of made mustard
  • a gill (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) or a wine-glass and a half of vinegar
  • rather more than two wine-glasses (about 6 ounces) of sweet oil.

Mix all these ingredients thoroughly; stirring them a long time till they are quite smooth. The dressing should not be put on till a few minutes before the salad is sent in; as by lying in it the chicken and celery will become tough and hard. After you pour it on, mix the whole well together with a silver fork. Chicken salad should be accompanied with plates of bread and butter, and a plate of crackers.

We Can Do Better Than That

Dear Miss Leslie, you gave us a good foundation from which to begin, but I think we can make a few improvements.

Let's update this concept, simply the instructions, add a few more ingredients, and make something really yummy. I'm getting hungry!

CS (Chicken Salad) Recipes In This Article

  • Rosemary CS
  • Avocado CS
  • Balsamic Strawberry CS
  • Crunchy CS
  • CS Caprese
  • Chick(pea) Salad (V)
  • Tempeh CS (V)
  • Blackberry Balsamic Grilled CS with Crispy Fried Goat Cheese
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Delishably

(V) = Vegetarian


Rosemary Chicken Salad

I originally made this as a filling for a cold sandwich (honey oatmeal bread is phenomenal with this!). Or, you can simply serve it as a cold salad on a bed of salad greens. As an added bonus, below the basic recipe, I have provided some suggestions for add-in's and/or changes to the original.


  • 3 cups cooked chicken, diced (I think white meat is best in this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise, (I used non-fat)
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Cover and chill at least one hour to allow flavors to blend.

Avocado Chicken Salad

This avocado-chicken salad from is creamy, light, and gluten-free. I would serve it on a bed of lettuce with some grated cucumber. Mr. Carb Diva likes to eat it with white corn tortilla chips.

Balsamic Strawberry Chicken Salad

This strawberry chicken recipe from is a wonderful salad to enjoy in late Spring or early Summer when fresh, ripe strawberries are available at your local Farmers' Market. Grab some fresh basil too and you are on the way to making a colorful salad, bright with the sweetness of the berries and the licorice flavor of basil. Balsamic lends the perfect sweet-tart flavor balance.

Crunchy Chicken Salad

The cooks at BettyCrocker have come up with a simple crunchy chicken salad made of ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, or can easily pick up on the way home at your local grocery store.

Chicken Salad Caprese

A Caprese salad is one of the simplest, but most luxurious of Italian meals. Take the freshest, garden-ripe tomato and slice it thinly. Then purchase a round of fresh mozzarella cheese; it's difficult to slice (unflavored dental floss does a good job), so do the best you can. Fresh basil is a must; tear off the top-most leaves. A gentle baptism with exquisite olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, and a fresh grinding of black peppercorns and you have Heaven on a plate.

This chicken salad has all of those wonderful flavors, and chicken too!

Chick(pea) Salad

This vegetarian recipe from has all of the flavors of chicken salad, but no chickens were harmed in the making of this dish. Chickpeas stand in for the protein. Admittedly you will not fool your meat-loving friends, but chickpeas do have an earthy taste and satisfying (not mushy) texture when mashed.

Tempeh Chicken Salad

Some of you might be wondering "what is tempeh?" Tempeh is a pressed block of fermented soy beans. Now, before you run away in horror, please hear me out. Unlike tofu it has a meaty texture and the "umami" flavor you seek in meat.

I found this recipe at The original concept is good, but I would like to suggest a few changes:

  • I prefer to steam the whole tempeh block instead of dicing it into cubes. After it has been steamed and cooled, I shred it on the largest holes of a box grater.
  • If you like bell peppers in your chicken salad by all means leave them in, but I feel that they detract from the "chicken" taste.
  • I have similar feelings about the inclusion of mustard. If you want a bit of color in your salad sprinkle in just a touch of turmeric.
  • Dill pickle? Sometimes I'm in a pickle-y mood, but more often I prefer a bit of sweetness in my chicken salad. You might want to try this with some diced apple or dried cranberries instead of the pickle.

Blackberry Balsamic Grilled Chicken Salad With Crispy Fried Goat Cheese

If any recipe is worthy of taking the place of "grand finale," this certainly is it. Kevin Lynch is the author of the blog "ClosetCooking" and has created a magnificent salad. Tangy/funky goat cheese is coated with Panko crumbs. The crunch of the Panko is juxtaposed against buttery avocado. And the creamy mouth feel of the cheese and avocado bounce against the bright, sharp contrast of Balsamic vinegar and blackberries. It's 4th of July and News Years Eve in your mouth!

© 2017 Linda Lum

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