Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy. So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat? Creamy is nice but heavy is not. Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down.
My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy. Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.
I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me. It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies. Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting. Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited. Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement. Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo? Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy. Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it. I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.
I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach. In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.
(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c. Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
1. Clean and rinse the chicken well. In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan. Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken. Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.
2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.
3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool. Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them. Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)
4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred. Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing. Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.
You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette. I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats. All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad.
Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers. I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful lunch plate for JC. At first he said, "That's way too much food." Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left. Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.
And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken. What serendipity. They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up. Why did the neighbor cross the road? Ask the chicken.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.