The children and I had the pleasure of hosting a couple of very special ladies for lunch in our home today. As I decided what we would have on the menu, I was craving chicken salad. The only problem is that whipping up "good" chicken salad is not my forté.
There was no one I could turn to for this task. Caelyn was at the store buying ingredients for the rest of our lunch menu, and she's the next best thing to my mom, whose chicken salad is restaurant-worthy.
I needed Morgan to make the sandwiches and Gabriela to make dessert, and the boys were finishing their school work.
I had to rise to the occasion.
I deliberated over it quite a bit and came up with something that my family declared "excellent".
First, I convection-roasted a few boneless/skinless chicken breasts at 350°F, using olive oil, a little butter, herbs, salt, pepper, seasoned salt... That may be all. I basically seasoned it the way I do when I roast a whole chicken.
When the chicken was done, I shredded it and transferred it to a bowl. One thing that bothers me about some chicken salad (e.g. the grocery store deli variety) is that the meat, itself, isn't flavorful, which throws the whole thing off. So, I ran the pan drippings through a sieve into the bowl with the shredded chicken. This made it moist, but not runny, and got all of that yummy goodness from the pan into the meat.
In my opinion, "good" chicken salad is a harmonious blend of colors, textures, and flavors.
For crunch, I added:
Fennel (1/4 bulb, chopped)
a few big red grapes (chopped; for a sweet "pop")
Celery (my mother insisted over the phone, and I can't imagine chicken salad without it)
Red bell pepper (a few thin slices, chopped)
Next, I added some chopped fresh herbs:
I knew that the seasoning on the chicken was just the beginning, so I added freshly-ground black pepper, dried lemongrass, a hint of curry powder, and a dash or two of Greek seasoning with the other ingredients before adding mayonnaise.
I've drastically reduced the amount of mayonnaise in my life, but I do still occasionally use Hellmann's Canola Mayonnaise. I'm sure it's not healthful, but it has its place. For many things, I use a wonderful product called Vegenaise (the grapeseed version). I highly recommend it.
When it was time to "poison test" the finished product, Morgan and I agreed that it needed a little more sweetness, but I was afraid of choosing the wrong sweetener. The idea of just sprinkling or drizzling seemed so blah.
I ended up dropping two generous dollops of apricot preserves into the bowl, and it was the perfect solution. No one could have figured out the ingredient that balanced out the flavors, but we could certainly tell a difference.
We had a marvelous time of fellowship with our guests, and the menu was a hit:
Chocolate Power Bar Balls
(because everything's better with chocolate)