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Peachy Keen Chicken Salad

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Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

I love chicken salad. What’s not to love? It’s a great summer lunch or supper, perfect for making ahead and it will a few days in the fridge. Chicken salad can be made with leftover chicken and a smart way to use up end bits of the Sunday bird or it can be made with intention, by poaching or roasting the fresh chicken breasts. It’s a classic dish that can be enjoyed with a utilitarian saltine cracker or served scooped into the curve of a lettuce cup with fancy butter crackers.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

Grab-and-Go

Homemade, like many dishes, is undoubtedly better, but storebought chicken can be a lifesaver. (Chicken Salad Chick outlets have caught on like wildfire across the South! I have to admit, I’ve yet to taste it.) However, store-bought chicken salad can be tricky – some are packed with all sorts of stabilizers, preservatives, and sugar. Whole Foods Market makes a good one and there are fans of the tubs of chicken salad found at Costco, although I think it’s a bit sweet. In the end, I have to say, even semi-bad chicken salad can be pretty good.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

Add-Ins

Most chicken salad starts with all-white meat – shredded, chopped, or finely chopped. I know it’s heresy, but I don’t mind a little bit of dark meat in the mix, especially if I am cheating and using rotisserie chicken. I prefer cooked dark meat chicken in general as it’s moister and more flavorful. However, the color of dark meat can look odd with chicken salad so keep that in mind.

Some recipes add chopped celery, grapes, or nuts such as almonds or pecans. Mama adds grated hard-cooked eggs, apples, and finely chopped onion. She says eggs make the chicken salad “go further” and the added bonus is that they also make it extra creamy. I love to add fruit, but I don’t stop at traditional grapes or apples. In season, I love to include chunks of sweet, juicy Georgia peaches, too.

My biggest change in chicken salad is that I back off on the mayonnaise and substitute some Icelandic yogurt. I also love to add a squeeze of lemon and a judicious amount of Dijon mustard. (Less Weight Watcher points and a ton of flavor!)

How to Cook Chicken for Chicken Salad

Many cooks, chefs to grandmas insist that the best way to obtain the perfect chicken is to poach it at a bare minimum simmer. Poaching is a wet cooking technique that involves cooking something in a simmering liquid. The great thing about poaching is that you also wind up with a flavorful broth. However, it’s important to remember just because something is poached in liquid it doesn’t mean it can’t be dry and overcooked. If you poach the chicken for too long or at a rolling boil, the proteins contract so much that it literally squeezes the natural chicken juices out of the chicken.  And, making chicken salad out of chicken that’s been used to in making chicken stock is an admirable effort in preventing food waste, but by the time the chicken has simmered in the stock for hours, it has no flavor.

My secret? If I have the time, I am a proponent of slowly baking the chicken for chicken salad! When I was the Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart Living Television, Martha walked into the test kitchen with a Chicken Salad Sandwich from Zabar’s in NYC. She instructed me to duplicate the recipe. “Yes ma’am,” I said.  (Because, you know, when Martha tells you to do something, you do it.) After rigorous testing, we found the key to moist, tender, and flavorful chicken was to slow roast the chicken on the bone at a very low temperature so the results would be as juicy as possible.

In the end, slow roasting is best, but sometimes my life just isn’t tailored for gently cooking chicken — and sometimes the rotisserie is the way to go.

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawillis.com

Summer Supper

I hope you enjoy this super simple recipe for Peach Chicken Salad with Arugula and Almonds. Peaches and almonds are closely related so they enhance the flavor of one another. The sweetness of the peaches contrasts nicely with the sharp bitterness of the arugula. It’s all tossed together with just enough mayonnaise and yogurt to coat, making a very refreshing supper for a hot summer evening or midday meal. I’ve included instructions on slow-roasting bone-in breasts — or using rotisserie chicken if that’s how your life needs to be. Best of all, the chicken/mayonnaise part can be cooked (or assembled) ahead and tossed with the lettuce and the peaches at the last minute.

Please let me know what you think. Stay safe.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis 

Chicken Salad on www.virginiawilis.com

Chicken Salad with Peaches and Almonds

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 25 mins
Course: lunch, Salad, starter
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: chicken recipes, chicken salad, peach recipes
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 4 8-ounce bone-in chicken skin-on breast halves OR 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons 2 % Greek yogurt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 cups arugula or baby spinach
  • 2 peaches pitted and chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil for seasoning
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 300°F. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and place in a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle over the oil. Bake until the juices run clear, about 1 hour to 11/4 hours, depending on the size of the breasts. Remove to a rack to cool. When cool enough to touch, remove the skin from the breasts. Pull the meat from the bone. Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl OR remove the breast meat from 1 rotisserie chicken and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • One way or the other, you'll need about 4 cups of cooked chicken.
  • Place the chicken in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and mustard. Stir to just combine. Add the arugula, peaches, and almonds. Stir to combine and coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle with optional olive oil. Serve immediately.

 

 

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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