Every rare once-in-a-while, I make chicken salad. I never write down the recipe and I usually vary some element of it each time I make it, but it’s always delicious. My husband could eat it all the time, but my chicken salad making is typically associated with picnic events, meaning that I’ve only made it ONE TIME in the past year, and that was by request. My friends are pretty much the least demanding group of people you could be lucky enough to have (most of them), much like my husband. It’s probably because it takes a certain mellow personality to deal with all the crazy that I bring to the table (my parents’ fault, obviously). So this year, on the 4th of July, when I offered to bring something to a picnic, my friend, Eunice’s gut-response was, “no, just you!” About a half-a-second later came, “Oh wait! No! Could you bring your chicken salad???” This girl has gone BEYOND holding my hair back after a bad night (shudder… I will spare you the details and her the flashback), so how could I say no?
I made about 2 quarts, none-of-which survived to the end of the picnic. We literally scraped the inside of the tupperware clean. Honestly, that’s the best thing in the world to see when you cook. Anyone who has ever cooked for friends and family knows that watching people you love enjoy something that you’ve made is like a drug. You can’t wait to do it again until you remember how much you hate doing dishes. Recently, Eunice’s friend, Ye, asked for the recipe (which again, is all in my head) and it gave me an idea. Why not take the joy you feel for cooking (and consuming) and take it to the next level???
About 2 summers ago, I was lucky enough to volunteer in Vietnam. At one of the centers where we worked, I met a rascally toddler with cerebral palsy named, Tinh. Her beautiful eyes, wide, toothy smile, and mischievous giggles instantly stole my heart and I fell in love (as do most people who meet her). I try and send money back every six months to buy her Pediasure and diapers, and it’s getting to be that time of year again. So here is my idea: I’m publishing my chicken salad recipe below and also offering a one-on-one lesson on how to make it (complete with butchering a chicken and poaching it) for $60 an hour, with all proceeds going to Tinh. Please take your chicken-salad-summer-loving to the next level and help me send a little love all the way to Nam. If you don’t want the full lesson, but just want to donate a little something (ANY amount helps), please let me know. If you want to find another way to get involved and maybe even go abroad to give your time, check out the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) and all the incredible work that they do.
Mindy’s Chicken Salad for Change
(I like chicken salad that’s scoopable, so I like to cut everything into tiny dices. If you don’t like that or just don’t have the energy to care, keep it rustic)
– 1 small poached/roasted chicken (de-boned and cut into ½” cubes. If you’re under a time-crunch, you can buy a good rotisserie chicken and eat the skin while you cube the meat. If you throw the skin away… shame on you!)
– 2 celery stalks (washed and diced into ¼” cube-like pieces)
– 1 cup red, seedless grapes (washed and cut into ¼”-sized pieces)
– ½ medium red onion (cut into ¼”-sized pieces)
– 1 cup toasted pecans (cooled and rough-chopped to ¼”-sized pieces)
– ½ cup dried blueberries (or currants, or chopped dried apricots, etc)
– ½ cup golden raisins
– ¾ – 1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Hellmann’s to ANY, including homemade)
– ¾ – 1 cup whipped heavy cream
– 1 T Grainy Mustard
– Sherry vinegar
– Salt & freshly ground black pepper
(you can also add freshly chopped tarragon, sage, mint, add/sub Greek yogurt, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped egg, curry it by whisking in curry powder to the mayo, etc. – experiment!!!)
- In a large bowl, season chicken with sherry vinegar and salt to taste – it shouldn’t taste like vinegar, but the chicken should be able to stand out in the salad and hold its on, so make it savory, tangy, and delicious. Cover it and put it in the fridge while you chop everything else.
- Dice all the veggies, fruits and nuts (and dried fruit if you’re using something bigger than blueberries/currants). You don’t have to get a ruler out or anything – I just like to make sure that the chicken pieces are biggest and that everything else is smaller.
- Add all of your diced foods to the chicken bowl and mix to combine.
- Fold together the mayonnaise, heavy cream, and grainy mustard. Season with salt & freshly ground black pepper until the salt balances out the tanginess of the mayo (which will already be mellowed by the whipped cream).
- Add half of the dressing to the salad ingredients and fold together to combine. Continue adding dressing if the salad looks too dry, but don’t add too much so that it becomes sludgy. The salad should JUST be bound together. Taste a spoonful and keep adjusting with sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and dressing until it tastes just how YOU like
- Serve with crostinis, bagel chips, baguette, as a sandwich using marble rye, etc. Just eat with friends and enjoy!