How to Spice Up Your Chicken Salad
Chicken salad is a lunchbox staple, a faithful companion on picnics, and a good way to ease into the transition from summer to fall. Chicken salad is the answer to packing a sandwich on days where something on the stove feels too ambitious. It's fast, it's filling, and it can be packed with flavor.
The quintessential version has shredded chicken, mayonnaise, maybe some mustard or lemon juice, celery, dill, and maybe some parsley too. That's the classic. But it's far from the only way to make a chicken salad, and if you're feeling in a little bit of a sandwich rut, you should get creative.
The main components of the chicken salad are chicken, of course, some kind of creamy binder or dressing, some kind of crunchy component, and spices or herbs. Some acid in there often provides a pleasant contrast, too. And if you like a little pop of sweetness, sliced fruit, like grapes or tomatoes, goes well with the mixture too. But really, those three components are what you need. Once you understand the template, you can do some experimenting to take chicken salad into a whole new world of lunching.
If, for example, you weren't into the idea of mayonnaise, you can substitute part or all of the mayo with Greek yogurt, like in this Herbed Greek Chicken Salad. Here, the yogurt is cut with tahini and lemon juice before added into the lettuce, cucumber, and tomato. You can also use something completely not mayonnaise-based at all, like this Melon Chicken Salad that has soy sauce, honey, peanut butter, and rice wine vinegar as a binder, and uses honeydew melon and cilantro for the mix. Mashed avocado with olive oil would also work nicely.
You can, of course, put any chicken salad between two slices of bread, but you can also pack it up with a few crackers or toasted pita bread to make it more freeform, or serve in lettuce cups for a bread-free experience. For other crunchy elements, don't feel like you're limited to celery. You can use bell peppers, carrots, or whatever your preferred crunch is. Nuts are a particularly good element, since they stand up to refrigeration without getting soggy, and add a little extra burst of salt and flavor. You could use chopped up roasted peanuts, like in our Kung Pao Chicken Salad, which riffs on the flavors of the Chinese-American takeout classic.
The spices you use can also make a huge difference to the flavor profile of the whole dish. You can toss in fresh herbs that you have on hand to take the chicken salad in a subtly different direction, like in this Tarragon Chicken Salad. Rosemary would be a great choice, or you could add basil and olive oil and tomatoes for a caprese salad feel. Adding different spices to the dressing, like curry powder or za'atar, is another quick way to zhush up your otherwise run-of-the-mill chicken salad. The truth is that chicken salad can be a blank slate that you can add whatever your favorite things are, so don't be afraid to experiment a little. You might just strike lunchbox gold.