With summer around the corner I start looking for something different to serve for dinner; dishes to take the place of hearty, cool weather stews and casseroles.
My family likes main-course salads beefed up with protein of some kind, which in our case is often chicken. The problem is everyone likes their chicken salad a little different, so I needed a basic recipe I could adjust based on who I was serving. Sure finding a recipe with this flexibility might prove frustrating, but I was up for the challenge.
I started my search on the Internet and discovered the general idea of chicken salad, pieces of chicken mixed with a variety of spices and tied together by a binding substance, has been around a long time. The Chinese deserve the credit for being the first to serve a variation of what we know today, but it is Liam Gray of Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island, who,in 1863 combined leftover chicken with mayonnaise, spices and grapes to create the iconic American version. It was such a hit that the meat market became a deli and operated until just a few years ago.
The first recipe I stumbled upon dated from the 19th century and called for shredded chicken, chopped celery and filberts held together with either an oil and vinegar or sweet mayonnaise-like dressing. Intriguing, but not really what I had in mind.
Further research unearthed salads with an Asian twist containing grilled meat, almonds and mandarin oranges tossed with a sesame dressing and others that started with store-bought rotisserie chicken and mayonnaise. While these recipes sounded good they had distinctive flavor profiles, not the “blank canvas” I sought.
My search lead me back to my own recipe box and the Chicken Salad Supreme a friend shared with me many years ago. This tried-and-true recipe features diced, poached chicken, the crunch of celery and almonds and a burst of sweetness from seedless grapes and it fit my needs perfectly.
You may think this sounds like that old-time chicken salad, but the dressing sets it apart from the rest. Whipped cream combined with mayonnaise creates a light, silky dressing that holds it all together. This dressing and the tender poached chicken create the perfect base to build upon.
The best part about this recipe is that I can easily change out ingredients, adding pecans or walnuts for those who don’t like almonds or tossing in dried cranberries, diced apples or mandarin oranges instead of grapes. The key is selecting ingredients with different textures, as well as a touch of sweetness.
Consider serving the salad in a pineapple half, or tucked into a flaky croissant. Or simply enjoy it on a bed of lettuce with a slice of melon and roll on the side.
So far my family enjoys this salad any way I serve it, and I hope yours will too.
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• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the Daily Herald’s 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge.