Ultimate Chicken Salad
Updated Jul 24, 2023
This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy.
Chicken salad is undoubtedly a classic recipe. Diced chicken is tossed with a creamy dressing and dotted with crisp celery, green onion, and fresh grapes.
But my version has a little something extra to make it the ultimate chicken salad recipe. It’s easy, healthy, bright, flavorful, and will make any summer meal a breeze.
When I think of chicken salad, I think of summer’s own version of comfort food. It’s creamy, filling, and filled with fresh and bright flavors. You get hints of Dijon mustard, juicy grapes, and crispy celery with every bite. And the best part? It keeps cooking to a minimum, making it the perfect throw-together meal.
But if you want to make the ultimate chicken salad, it’s really all about the herbs. And my secret ingredient – tarragon.
Tarragon pairs beautifully with the chicken and gives it that wow factor. Trust me, everybody will be coming back for seconds on this one. So hit the market, grab your salad ingredients, and follow along with me in the video below.
Chicken Salad Ingredients
While the ingredients are simple, it’s how their unique flavors meld together that’s key. Here’s what I use:
- Chicken Breasts – I poach boneless skinless chicken breasts, but you could also use leftover rotisserie chicken.
- Mayonnaise – The best creamy binder to mix all the ingredients together. And it’s easy to make mayonnaise at home!
- Dijon Mustard – Just a little Dijon mustard adds great depth of flavor and a little spice.
- Red Grapes – You could use red or green seedless grapes, I just love the contrasting color of red grapes.
- Celery – I love my chicken salads to have that crisp celery crunch.
- Green Onion – Green onions add that savory flavor without being too pungent, which is perfect.
- Toasted Almonds – Toast your sliced almonds to bring out that nutty flavor.
- Parsley – One of the best herbs for adding to salads, just chop up a few tablespoons.
- Tarragon – The best secret ingredient! You’ll be amazed at how much flavor just a little bit of tarragon adds to the salad.
- Lemon Juice – For that bright freshness.
- Salt and Pepper – Always season to your personal preference.
How To Poach Chicken
I love to use poached chicken in this recipe as it’s easy, healthy, and flavorful. It also means you don’t have to turn your oven on if it’s a hot sunny day outside. A definite bonus.
If done correctly, poaching can yield one of the most tender pieces of chicken you’ve ever had. To nail this every time, follow the simple steps below.
- Place your chicken breasts into a wide pot or pan, so that they’re not overlapped or crowded.
- Cover the chicken with cold water. Season the water with a bit of salt to give it some flavor.
- Slowly bring the water to a gentle simmer. Then, reduce the heat back to low and cover the pan.
- Let the chicken simmer for about 10 minutes. Remember, patience is key for this low and slow process!
- Check to see the doneness of your chicken. If its internal temperature reads 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit, turn the heat off.
- Let the chicken rest for a minute or two after you’ve removed it from the pot. This will allow the chicken juices to redistribute.
- Chill the chicken in the fridge. This is key as you need cold chicken in this recipe.
Can you use baked chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken? Of course. While I prefer poached chicken, almost any chicken works in this recipe. Just make sure you have about four cups of diced or shredded chicken.
How To Make Chicken Salad
Now that you have beautifully tender chicken breasts, it’s time to assemble the salad. And there’s really only three steps:
- Toast: Lightly toast the almonds in a pan on the stove. Let them cool completely to room temperature.
- Slice and Dice: Dice up your chicken breasts into small pieces. Then, quarter the grapes, dice the celery, parsley and tarragon, and slice the green onion.
- Mix: Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix everything together until it’s well combined. Season with a bit of salt and pepper – and you’re done!
Chicken salad is best served when it’s cold. So let the mixture chill in the fridge before serving. This also helps all the flavors meld together for the tastiest salad.
Chicken Salad Variations
Aside from the ingredients listed below, you have a few options to play with when it comes to texture and flavor.
- Vary the nuts. Swap the almonds for pecans or walnuts.
- Mix up the fruit. You can omit the grapes and add diced apples, dried cranberries or dried cherries.
- Change the onions. If green onions aren’t your thing, you can swap them for finely diced red onions.
- Make it creamier. Swap the mayo for greek yogurt or do half and half.
How to Serve It
Sometimes I find myself eating this chicken salad by the spoonful straight out of the bowl – because it’s that good. But to turn it into a meal, here’s a few ideas.
- Sandwich: Stuff it between sandwich bread with layers of lettuce, spinach, or tomato slices.
- Wrap: Turn it into a wrap with homemade cassava flour tortillas.
- Lettuce Wrap: For a lighter, low-carb option, use large romaine or butter leaf lettuce to wrap it.
- Extra Green Salad: Pour a spoonful on top of a bed of greens such as spinach.
- Dip: Serve it with flax seed crackers or chips.
How Long Does Chicken Salad Last?
Since this recipe is meant to be chilled, don’t leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours. Otherwise, store it in the fridge for up to 3 to 5 days.
More Classic Salad Recipes
With the weather warming up, more healthy salads are being added to the weekly rotation. Here’s a few light, fresh and healthy ideas to keep things interesting.
Ultimate Chicken Salad Recipe
To Make the Poached Chicken
- Place the chicken breasts in a wide pot or pan and cover by about an inch with cold water. Season the water with salt. Optionally, you can add aromatics of your choice. Read my poached chicken recipe for more details.
- Turn the heat to medium until it reaches a gentle simmer. Then reduce the heat back to low and cover the pan. Let the chicken simmer for 8-12 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chicken and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Then chill in the fridge.
Chicken Salad Recipe
- Transfer the cooled chicken to a cutting board and dice it into ½-inch pieces.
- Slice and dice the celery, green onion, grapes, parsley and tarragon. Add those ingredients to a mixing bowl along with the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
- Mix everything together until it's well combined. Let it chill in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
©Downshiftology. Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing of this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.
Recipe originally published May 2020, but updated with new information and tips.