Though Chicken Salad is usually considered the stuff summer sandwiches are made of, this variation on the familiar is a perfect and colorful addition to any holiday buffet.
A variation of this dish is served at Judie’s (a bistro on North Pleasant Street in Amherst MA); at Judie’s, the chilled chicken salad is served either as a salad plate or in the one item this bistro is particularly famous for: piping hot jumbo popovers. I’ve had chicken salad there several times, savoring their version served up in amazing 8″ high popovers. I paid attention, and drew on the best of several salads (their’s, others and my own leftover roast chicken fixin’s) to develop this hybrid creation for my friends.
Okay, it may seem labor-intensive, and yes, I know there are shorter, faster, less complex ways to make chicken salad. But this recipe is worth the effort, can be made the day before, and rarely results in leftovers.
The idea is to create a chunky chicken salad heavily laced with fruit for color, nuts for hearty texture, and a bit of celery for crunch.
My roasted chicken version was inspired by the “waste not/want not” use of leftover roasted chicken breasts for a fast chicken salad lunch. The herb-roasted chicken is simply another dimension of flavor. The quantities are ambiguous because, most of the time, I am making this with leftovers.
Roasted Chicken Salad With Cranberries or Dried Cherries
- Buy as many pounds of skinless boneless chicken as you want/need.
- Season the chicken with a pinch of salt (I prefer salt-less, but that is personal preference), pepper, parsley, a pinch of poultry seasoning, a dusting of Italian seasoning (I have a grinder that pulverizes Italian seasoning and releases its aroma), a bit of garlic (fresh crushed cloves or garlic salt to taste; don’t overpower the chicken though), finely minced onion (reserve a bit of the minced onion for later).
- Roll the chicken breasts in the spices until thoroughly coated; place in lightly greased baking dish and sprinkle lightly with the garlic and onions.
- Make sure the chicken is amply seasoned, and allow it to sit in the fridge, coated in the spices, for about an hour.
- Add 1/4 inch of chicken broth to the baking dish.
- Roast at 350 until chicken is done but do not overcook. Spoon the broth over the chicken 2-3 times during the baking, and baste again when the chicken comes out of the oven.
Allow the chicken to sit for about 20 minutes, then slice and cube it to your personal taste — very fine to very chunky.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss in one or two packages dried cherries, cranberries or craisins proportionate to the amount of chicken used.
- Toss in chopped almonds or walnuts (almonds have a lighter taste, walnuts are richer and often preferable for winter or holiday serving)
- Toss in 4-5 stalks of finely sliced celery
- Add a sprinkle of the extra minced onion if desired
- Add mayonnaise and mix to desired creaminess. The more mayo, the sloppier and juicier the mix; use a bit less and you get a looser, chunkier salad. It’s a matter of personal taste. Increase seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Ideally, the mix should be a bit chunky and crumbly, perfect for spooning onto specialty breads.
- The fruits and nuts should be ample enough to be clearly seen in the salad.
- For presentation, mound the salad in a glass bowl or on lettuce leaves on a platter; sprinkle a small handful of chopped nuts or the dried fruit over the top.
Chill and serve (if you can wait that long).