The Best Chicken Salad
Serves 4 to 6
I have been trying for years to master the simple chicken salad sandwich. It seems an easy task, but more often than not the chicken is overcooked and dry, the sauce too cloying and the bread too squishy to hold up to a sturdy filling. I have combined many recipes along the way to making my favorite, including a foolproof chicken-poaching technique from Julia Moskin of The New York Times that renders the chicken perfectly juicy — the extra poaching time might seem excessive, but trust me, it’s worth it!
About 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 scallions, cut into thirds
¼ teaspoon black
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 stalk celery, diced
½ cup minced red onion or finely sliced green onion, optional
½ cup walnuts, almond or pecans, broken into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh
tarragon, parsley or chives, plus extra for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Choose a heavy pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. It should be large enough to hold the chicken snugly but not much bigger. Fill pot about 2/3 full of cold water, but don’t put the chicken in yet. Boil some extra water in a teakettle.
2. Add scallions and peppercorns to water, cover and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off heat and slip chicken pieces into the hot water. If needed, add boiling water from the kettle to cover chicken with water by 2 inches. Replace the lid and let chicken rest in the hot water for about 2 hours. Do not turn the flame back on: The pot will retain enough heat to cook chicken thoroughly and safely. (To test, cut into 1 piece of chicken and check the meat near the bone. If it is still pink, return the pot to low heat, bring the water to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes more.)
3. Lift chicken out of the pot. Remove and discard bones, skin and fat. Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then cut or shred into small bite-size pieces and transfer to a bowl. (Meanwhile, strain cooking liquid and refrigerate or freeze to use as chicken stock.)
4. In a bowl, whisk together juice of ½ lemon, mayonnaise and sour cream. If using, whisk in mustard or brine. Taste and adjust the seasonings and thickness to your liking. Pour over chicken, scraping the bowl clean with a rubber spatula.
5. Add celery, onion if using, nuts, herbs and salt and pepper. Toss gently but thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle with herbs before serving.