Chicken salad is impossible not to like. Chunks of chicken and crunchy vegies, smothered in creamy mayo. Spread on a sandwich, or eaten as a salad, it’s family-friendly and incredibly easy to make.
But because it’s so popular, there are many different ways to make it, and hundreds of recipes to show you how. So how do you choose?
To try to make it a little easier, I’ve reviewed twenty recipes for chicken salad. I’ve figured out what’s popular, and what’s not, to help you choose an approach or a recipe that suits you the best.
What is chicken salad?
Given that the name could mean a few different dishes, let me clarify what I’ve reviewed.
Chicken salad refers to cooked chicken mixed with other ingredients like celery, onions and more, brought together with creamy mayonnaise and possibly some seasonings. As you’ll see from the pictures, it’s not a green salad with chicken. This is also delicious, but I’ll cover it separately in another review.
The chicken salads I’ve covered here are wonderful eaten on a sandwich, roll or croissant. They can also be served on top of green leaves, or wrapped in larger ones. By the way, it’s also delicious simply eaten out of the bowl with a fork!
What’s in it?
There’s a lot of variation amongst the twenty recipes, but there are a few very consistent ingredients:
- Cooked chicken
A couple of the recipes are for a classic chicken salad, which is the foundational basic dish with the ingredients listed above and not much else. There are lots of great variations beyond these though, which I’ll go through as well. And even the authors of the classic salads offer a variety of suggested additions to their base recipe.
While every recipe contains cooked chicken, there are a few different types used:
- A few authors show you how to cook your chicken, either in the recipe itself or in their write-up. The most popular approaches are boiling and oven-baking. Slow-cookers and pressure-cookers are commonly suggested as well.
- A rotisserie chicken is obviously a quick and easy (not to mention delicious) way to make your salad.
- While only one of these recipes, from Amy at Belly Full, specifically uses canned chicken, a number of the other authors suggest it could be used as a substitute in their recipes. All advise draining the chicken well before use to ensure it doesn’t impact the consistency of your salad.
- For a next-level salad, Jennie’s recipe on The Diary of a Real Housewife uses breaded/crumbed chicken strips.
The authors overwhelmingly recommend chopping your chicken, although a few shred it, and a few more offer shredding as an option. A couple mention shredding it in a food processor too. As is so often the case, personal preference for texture will likely be the deciding factor here.
If you’re looking for guidance on cooking your chicken, Laura from Joy Food Sunshine and Lisa from Simple Joy give instructions on boiling it. Michele from Paleo Running Momma shows how to bake your chicken, and Sabrina from Dinner then Dessert does the same in response to a question from a reader.
Whichever approach you take, as a number of the authors point out, make sure your chicken has fully cooled before you start putting your salad together.
Sixteen of the recipes use mayo to bind the salad together. The amount varies considerably, but what’s most important is the ratio of chicken and vegetables to mayo.
Getting the right consistency
The consistency of your chicken salad needs to be just right – not too runny, not too dry. And not too much mayo either. The ratio of chicken and vegies to mayonnaise is key to getting the consistency how you want it.
While this will obviously depend on personal taste, there’s a fairly consistent ratio that appears amongst the recipes. A number of the authors use one cup of mayonnaise to four to five cups of chicken and vegetables. There are creamier recipes with more mayo and others with less, including a few with none, but this is a good starting point if you’re looking for a guide.
Other creamy dressing choices
A number of recipes use other options in their dressing:
- Julia from Savory Tooth uses Caesar salad dressing instead of mayonnaise, which is similar in composition (egg yolk, oil, etc), but includes more flavours.
- Ashlea from All the Healthy Things makes her own basil pesto from olive oil, basil, pinenuts and more, and uses that together with mayo.
- Melissa from Shaken Together Life uses equal amounts of mayo and sour cream. She also adds four ounces (about 115g) of Cool Whip. If you haven’t come across this before, it’s a whipped cream substitute that can be frozen.
- Kasey from All Things Momma uses equal amounts of mayo and Miracle Whip, which is a sweeter, more flavoured mayonnaise substitute.
Healthier dressing options
A few of the authors choose healthier dressings for their salads:
- Michele from Paleo Running Momma uses mashed avocado instead of mayo, mixing it through thoroughly to give a thick, creamy texture without any dairy.
- Kristine from Kristine’s Kitchen uses Greek yogurt in place of mayo. This will not only give a particular taste, but is also significantly lower in calories.
- Amy’s recipe on Belly Full only uses two tablespoons each of mayonnaise and Greek yogurt.
I’ve listed these three recipes separately at the bottom of the page if you’re interested in these options.
Fruit and Vegetables
There are a number of different vegetables used amongst the recipes:
- Fifteen recipes include chopped or sliced celery.
- Fourteen include some onion, typically diced. Red onion and scallions/green onions are the most popular.
- Three recipes each add grapes, avocado and chopped apple.
- Two authors add dried cranberries to their salads.
- There are a few ingredients that appear in just one recipe each – jalapeno, red bell pepper (capsicum) and dried cherries.
Other substantial ingredients
A few other ingredients appear amongst the recipes:
- Seven recipes include chopped nuts. Pecans are the most popular, although walnuts and pine nuts both make appearances.
- Four authors add some chopped hard-boiled eggs to their salad.
- Julia from Savory Tooth adds some chopped bacon to hers.
Herbs, spices and other flavours
There’s a wide variety of other choices available to you for changing up a classic chicken salad:
- Eight authors add some zest to their dressings with either lemon or lime juice. Lemon is easily the most popular, and usually a tablespoon or two.
- Six recipes use garlic, mostly as the powder.
- Six authors include some herbs in their recipes. Dill and cilantro/coriander are the most common.
- Sweet pickle relish appears in five of the recipes, usually a half-cup or less.
- Mustard also appears five times, with Dijon being the most popular, usually just a teaspoon or two.
- If you like your salad a little sweeter, a couple of authors include a small amount of sugar.
- There are a number of other ingredients appearing just once each, including lemon pepper, paprika and vinegar.
And there are obviously a lot more flavours and ingredients you could try that haven’t appeared here – corn, cucumber, olives, artichokes and more.
As you can imagine, from amongst all the options above, you have almost limitless variations available to customise your salad to suit your family’s tastes. Just make sure you keep your ratio of solid ingredients to mayonnaise in mind as you go.
Making chicken salad
Assuming your chicken is already cooked, the salad is remarkably easy to make. Chop, dice or shred your ingredients, and mix them all together in a big bowl. That’s pretty much it. If you’re a fan of quick and easy dishes, this has to be amongst the very best options available.
A few authors recommend refrigerating your salad for at least an hour to allow the flavours to come together, but most advise the salad can be served as soon as it’s mixed.
Making it ahead of time
Several authors note that the salad doesn’t freeze well, mainly because the mayonnaise tends to split, giving your thawed salad a curdled, runny texture. If you do want to prep in advance, you can chop and freeze the cooked chicken and then add the other ingredients once thawed.
The essence of chicken salad
If you’re looking to make a classic simple chicken salad, you don’t need much:
- Cooked chicken. A rotisserie chicken is perfect for this.
- Chopped celery and onion (red or green/scallion).
- Mayonnaise to bring it all together.
Beyond that, you have plenty of choices, but some popular options are:
- Lemon juice
- Garlic powder
- Sweet pickle relish
- Dijon mustard
Making your salad is remarkably easy:
- Cook your chicken, or grab a rotisserie one from the store, and allow it to cool.
- Chop your chicken and the rest of your ingredients.
- Mix everything together in a large bowl.
- Enjoy in a sandwich, with leafy greens or all by itself.
So there you have it – the essence of chicken salad. Hopefully this has helped you choose an approach or a recipe that suits you best.