One of the most classic summer dishes is chicken salad. It has graced luncheon and brunch tables for decades.It is a tasty favorite both as a sandwich and on its' own. It's also an easy enough recipe that novice home chefs can make as good as any experienced one.
It was the subject of Julia Moskin's Recipe Lab article in today's New York Times Food section. It's a classic in the South where it has been served at luncheons for decades.Unfortunately it's been relegated to a tired deli standby by us Northerners. We usually serve it between two slices of blah looking white or rye bread,It should be either served in a iced, crisp lettuce cup or in another kind of cup, one made out of crisper , thin toast. The last is from the Swan Coach House in Atlanta where it's been served since 1965.Sadly the salad came about from the over abundance hens that stopped laying eggs and had to be killed in the summer. The salad has been elevated to a high art with two versions, one being served on weekdays while a chunkier, nuttier version was made solely for luncheons. The everyday version featured finely chopped meat along pickle relish.This is usually served on crackers or in a sandwich. The more formal version has slivered almonds and even pineapple for some sweetness.A combined version of both is called the Bridesmaid's Chicken Salad and is a staple of Junior League cookbooks.This can be tried at home but Ms. Moskin's recipe is the more desirable one, adding some French flair with tarragon.
Before any chicken gets diced up, it first best to consider what kind to put into the salad. Home chefs looking for a shortcut may want to get an already roasted one from their supermarket. Ms. Moskin advises against this. Freshly roasted rotisserie birds will have dry and stringy meat, along with dark meat. which has no place in a true chicken salad.Instead use leftover breast meat from a poached chicken. She employs the Chinese method of using a heavy pot , then slipping the chicken into boiling water, then turning the heat off and leaving it to cook for two hours. Do this in the morning when the kitchen is at its' coolest. The meat should be then hand shredded instead of being cut up by knife.They could be cut into chunks and then hand massaged so they absorb more mayonnaise. The mayo itself should be homemade. The store bought variety is laced with acidic components such as vinegar and citric acid, added to deter the growth of bacteria.A dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche can also be thrown in to fluff up the salad's texture. Along with tarragon there is minced scallion for bite along with broken walnuts and pecan halves for crunch, Celery and onions are also added for texture and color. Serve it in a lettuce cup with a pretty side array of radishes and grape tomatoes.
The South's version of chicken salad is what a summer lunch should be. It's a nice refreshing change to the usual summer fare and has a certain elegance to it. Enjoy this summer classic either as a sandwich or on its' own.