Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chicken Salad Should NOT Come Out of a Can.

Canned tuna, canned salmon, canned shrimp, canned clams, canned crab and canned chicken; has convenience just gone too far?  Or you go into the deli area of your market and see a "salad" in a plastic container; but where are the edible ingredients?  Usually there is so much mayonnaise, you wonder if that is exactly what is in the container and nothing else.  Mayonnaise for any type of "salad" should be a coating, a simple binder for ingredients, NOT the main ingredient.

Chicken salad - do you like it with shredded chicken or chunky?  I prefer chunky myself; I like to bite into a piece of chicken and know how it tastes combined with all the added ingredients.  The best way to prepare chicken for salad making is either Rotisserie or Boiled; yes I said boiled. Boiling the chicken does not diminish its flavor; it simply is a quicker way of removing any excess fat while ensuring the chicken is thoroughly cooked. You want to use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenderloins; nice and meaty! For a serving of two, use four tenderloins or one large breast half (chickens have two breasts, so you only need one); place in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover the chicken. Using high heat, boil the chicken until a thick layer of scum forms on the top; skim it off; then place the chicken under running water to rinse off any residue still hanging on. Put the chicken on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let it cool down in the refrigerator; this will also help draw out any excess water the chicken may have absorbed.  Why get rid of the water?  To keep your mayonnaise from getting runny; nothing so unappetizing as scooping up salad and seeing watery residue at the bottom of the bowl.  Yuck!

When making your salad, don't get over complicated with ingredients as you want to taste that chicken. You're looking at my photo and saying, "Where's the salt?"; most mayonnaise brands have salt already as an ingredient. After making your salad, taste it and then decide if you'd like extra salt; remember, you can always add, but not take away. Diced red onion is sweeter than the regular white onion, less harsh on the taste buds. Diced celery will give you some color and added crunch, as will the red onion; two tablespoons of each will be just right. Ground black pepper is a flavor enhancer, but use it sparingly (a half teaspoon for two servings) as it can make your salad on the "hot" side of spicy. When cutting the chicken, first cut strips with the grain, then cut your chunks; otherwise the chicken meat will shred apart, unless you want shredded chicken that is.

Place the chicken, onion, celery and black pepper into a medium mixing bowl; add four tablespoons of mayonnaise and gently fold together. This is when you can now decide if you would like more mayonnaise or is it just right as it is. If you want more, only add one tablespoon at a time; you want to coat and bind, not overwhelm.

When it comes to making a sandwich with your freshly made chicken salad, well that's really up to personal preferences. Depending on my mood, and what I have in stock, it could be a sesame seed kaiser roll (as in the photo), a sub roll or two nice thick slices of whole wheat bread. Fresh, crispy lettuce is the bedding between the bottom piece of bread and the salad; I prefer a mild, thin slice of cheese like baby Swiss or Provolone.  Maybe you'd like Cheddar or American;  tomato or pickles; if that is what you'd like, but personally I don't want to add so many extras that I lose the essence of the chicken salad itself.

Basically, when it comes to buying canned chicken or premade chicken salad at the deli counter, consider buying fresh chicken and creating your own salad.  You'll thank yourself later on.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour