Our recipes and stories, delivered.

June 19, 2024
A Chicken Salad Just in Time for Picnic Season

There are no rules when it comes to chicken salad, only seasonal suggestions

“Picnic salads” are what I call the summer-specific category of foods that include very little, if any greens, but still enjoy the privilege of falling under the salad umbrella. Pasta salad, egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad all make for ideal outdoor eating for two reasons: they’re best enjoyed cold, and they’re easily eaten on the go. Chicken salad is my favorite of the three (sorry, pasta salad lovers!) and I especially enjoy it in the form of a wrap or a sandwich.

Chicken salad is a fairly broad concept. The only required ingredient is chicken, and besides that, almost anything goes. A classic version might include chopped celery and onions, or maybe grapes and walnuts. And then there’s curried chicken salad, including the beloved British variation, Coronation Chicken, which was famously created for Queen Elizabeth II’s post-coronation luncheon in 1953. My go-to begins with enriching juicy chicken breast and with a little spoonful of mayonnaise and creamy Greek yogurt, plus a dash of red wine vinegar for brightness. From there, I simply add whatever herbs and veggies are in peak season.

In this transitional time between spring and summer, peas are something of a chicken salad game changer, adding little green bursts of sweetness to each bite like the more traditional grapes or raisins. Fronds of fresh dill lend freshness, so a generous handful is necessary, along with whatever other tender herbs I have on hand. Spring onions are also in season and since they’re sweeter and milder than mature onions, they’re perfect for using raw in a salad. (If you can’t find them, a bit of ordinary red onion will do just fine).

This is a great time to use up leftovers, whether homemade or from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. After a chicken dinner, I simply dice up the leftover meat (or shred it, if there isn’t much meat left on the bones) I’m in the mood) and save it for the next day. But what should you do if you’re starting from scratch? I recommend gently poaching boneless skinless chicken breasts in well-salted water. This quick and easy method will yield the moistest results—even copious amounts of mayo can’t save truly dry chicken.

This chicken salad is best on a bed of tender greens and garnished with thin slices of crunchy radish. Don’t feel obliged to stick to my recipe, add in whatever veggies or fresh herbs you have. Try swapping in asparagus for peas, or fennel for dill. It will be delicious as is, served in salad form, but arguably even better piled into a sandwich and enjoyed on a picnic blanket at the local park.

RECIPE: Dilly Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Zola Gregory

Zola Gregory is a writer and recipe developer based in Seattle. Having previously worked as a pastry chef and baker, she now enjoys helping others find success in their own kitchens through her stories, recipes, and baking classes.