Best Chicken Salad Recipe (2024)

By Julia Moskin

Best Chicken Salad Recipe (1)

Total Time
20 minutes, plus 2 hours' resting and 4 hours' chilling
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The secret to this chicken salad recipe isn’t in the seasonings (though the tarragon and sour cream make it pretty wonderful) but in the texture of the chicken, described as “plush” by the chef Barbara Tropp in her “China Moon” cookbook. She incorporated Chinese methods and flavors to her cooking, including this foolproof method for poaching chicken breasts without overcooking. It makes a chicken salad that’s perfect for sandwiches (especially on dark rye or sourdough breads) or scooped onto a lettuce-lined plate with sliced radishes, tomatoes, crackers, grapes or all of the above.

The chicken breasts used here must be bone-in, but you can remove the skin if you prefer. The skin and bones flavor the cooking liquid, providing a bonus of several pints of chicken stock.

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Yield:4 servings

  • About 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • 2scallions, cut into thirds
  • ¼teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1lemon, halved
  • cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s, Best Foods or homemade
  • ¼cup sour cream or crème fraîche, more to taste
  • ½teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1 teaspoon brine from a jar of pickles, optional
  • 2 or 3pale green celery ribs, cut into medium (¼-inch) dice
  • ½cup minced onion or finely sliced scallion, optional
  • ½cup walnut or pecan halves, broken into bite-size pieces
  • 3tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, parsley, or chives, plus extra for garnish
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (4 servings)

1204 calories; 85 grams fat; 19 grams saturated fat; 1 gram trans fat; 27 grams monounsaturated fat; 34 grams polyunsaturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 3 grams sugars; 98 grams protein; 1393 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Best Chicken Salad Recipe (2)


  1. Step


    Choose a heavy pot or Dutch oven with a tightfitting lid. It should be large enough to hold the chicken snugly, but not much bigger. Fill pot about ⅔ full with cold water, but don’t put the chicken in yet. Boil some extra water in a teakettle.

  2. Add scallions and peppercorns to water, cover and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off heat and slip chicken pieces into the hot water. If needed, add boiling water from the kettle to cover chicken with water by 2 inches. Replace the lid and let chicken rest in the hot water for about 2 hours. Do not turn the flame back on: The pot will retain enough heat to cook chicken thoroughly and safely. (To test, cut into 1 piece of chicken and check the meat near the bone. If it is still pink, return the pot to low heat, bring the water to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes more.)

  3. Step


    Lift chicken out of the pot. Remove and discard bones, skin and fat. Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then cut or shred into small bite-size pieces and transfer to a bowl. (Meanwhile, simmer cooking liquid until tasty, strain and refrigerate or freeze to use as chicken stock.)

  4. Step


    In a bowl, whisk together juice of ½ lemon, mayonnaise and sour cream. If using, whisk in mustard or brine. Taste and adjust the seasonings and thickness to your liking. Pour over chicken, scraping the bowl clean with a rubber spatula.

  5. Step


    Add celery, onion if using, nuts, herbs and salt and pepper. Toss gently but thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle with herbs before serving.



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Cooking Notes


There's a much simpler way to cook the chicken and it's foolproof.
Use a whole chicken breast on the bone and add just enough cold water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cook for exactly 20 minutes and immediately remove to a board to cool. Timing is critical. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones and pull it into large shreds with your hands--never use a knife. Very plush. We call it velvet chicken.


Rather than discarding the chicken skin and bones in step 3 add them back to the cooking liquid while you continue to simmer it. Remove and discard only after you have a rich, flavorful stock.

Enjoy the recipe as presented for a change

Yes, there are a number of calories and fat in this dish. Someone asked if there were better choices given the obesity epidemic. No there aren’t. Chicken salad has always been a luxurious dish. If you don’t want the nutritional content of this dish, don’t make it. It’s not meant to be eaten every day. There are plenty of forums online for low-fat/low-cal “sensible” eating. I can’t imagine my bubbe making this any other way and she was 98 when she passed.


I use cranberries that have been plumped up in a bowl with boiling water and drained. I also toast the broken walnuts in a cast iron skillet (without any oil coated on the base of the skillet) which adds another dimension of flavor. Lots of compliments and very easy tweaks! Enjoy!


I am sure the reason for the cast iron pot WITH lid is to contain the heat long enough to cook the chicken and also to prevent the meat from sitting in sub-optimal temperatures from more rapid heat loss that would create a bacterial pond. Personally I question the wisdom of suggesting this method to home cooks who may grab a flimsy aluminum pan and set themselves up for something that is potentially dangerous. I suggest adding small amounts of boiling water regularly to keep the temp in check.


Actually, in the technique I learned the process is slightly different. Start with cold water. Put in chicken. Cover. Heat until the water boils, and then cook two minutes longer. At that point, cut off the heat and let stand. This has always worked for me, and it does not take two hours. Nor does it toughen the chicken - - always moist and tender. This technique can be used for any amount of chicken. The additional weight of a big portion takes much longer to come to a boil.


Why breasts? More chicken flavor in thighs and legs. I seal boneless, skinless thigh and leg meat in a aluminum packet, roast it for an hour, let it cool, refrigerate it overnight, and then make my chicken salad including all the jellied juices and fat. Yum.


Growing up in India I never liked the taste of raw curry powder. We always roast a spice if no further cooking is planned. In a small pan without any oil on a very low heat gently roast the spices until you smell that nutty flavor. Keep mixing while roasting. Give it a try next time you use curry powder and see if you like the new flavor fire brings to the table.


I'm fortunate enough to have a sous vide cooker and it produces the most perfect chicken breasts for chicken salad. I use Best Foods mayo, chopped toasted pecans, grapes, sweet onion (Vidalia, Maui, etc.), celery, and tarragon. Of course, plenty of ground pepper and some salt.

Terry Van Kirk

Love the recipe, but the corresponding video states that the chicken should rest for 24 hours in a pot on the stove. I probably don't have to elaborate on what might happen if anyone actually followed this directive.

Joyce Matthews

In reading the comments about the bland flavor of the chicken, I wondered if the addition of salt in the poaching liquid would change this. Most chefs argue that the proper seasoning of meat, fish, poultry, etc., should be the first step, not the last, in order to properly infuse the meat and bring out its flavor. If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, you could always exclude it, but my feeling (and humble experience) is that it makes an enormous difference - for the better - to add it initially.


This is an easy way to poach chicken;
Place chicken breast and stock in sauce pot be sure chicken is covered by stock. add 2 bay leaves and 4 parsley stems.. Bring to a light simmer over med. heat- not a boil. Simmer for 7 min. uncovered. Remove from heat, cover allow to sit for 10 min. Chicken should be cooked throughly .. returning to a simmer for 2 min if additional cooking time is necessary. Cool completely and chill if desired.

Terri Thal

Duke's mayonnaise is excellent (available via Amazon)


Four pounds of chicken breast for four persons for lunch (and even dinner) is a very large serving.
In addition, to further cut down on calories, I use less mayonnaise and stretch it with either the chicken broth or white wine. Thinning out the dressing coats the chicken pieces nicely.


Toast the Pecans!

Andrea L

I’m one person and this was way too much chicken. I’ll make a lot to have for a couple of days, but next time I’ll use 3 lbs. and I’ll find a less time consuming was to cook the chicken. I do usually boil chicken for chicken salad. The rest of the ingredients were spot on. I’ll make again just with tweaks.


Pressure cooking chicken just until done, which is 3-6 minutes depending on the size of the breast also yields a tender breast for shredding.


This is THE yummiest chicken salad I’ve ever tasted. I highly recommend the tarragon for flavouring it. I also added more pickle brine to mine, and it makes all the flavours pop.


easy and great as meal prep!


The flavors are great. I didn’t have great luck with the poaching method, my chicken breasts were gargantuan so I think I could have used a larger pot. Had to bake off some residual pinkness and chicken got a little chewier than we like


Excellent chicken salad. I used three celery stalks for the added crunch. The poaching method didn't work for me, after two hours the chicken was still raw. I boiled it on low for another half hour and let it sit. Not sure I had plush breasts after that.


Great recipe


The name says it all. Delicious as written.


A very easy way to make this is to pick up a roast chicken from the store. Just cut it up.

Laurie S

A question. About how much chicken by weight would remain after removing the skin and the bones? For speed I use Kirkland canned chicken, which obviously is already cooked and comes without the bones and skin. It would be helpful to know about how much finished meat you get from the recipe, so I can keep the herbs and spices in proportion to the amount of meat. If anyone is curious, yes using higher quality canned chicken in this recipe does work and provides a faster and very flavorful result.


Why don't you weigh a can of the chicken? The weight of the can and packing water probably approximates the weight of the skin and bones.


I did this by guestimate (since I didn't have the right amount of chicken) and the combo was very good, especially with the technique of bringing bone-in breasts to boil from cold water, boiling two minutes, and then leaving them in the kettle covered. Very moist chicken with good flavor.

Hillary L.

Has anyone worked out the timing of this at higher altitudes?


Oh, the calories! They have nothing to do with anything. Just don't eat past enough (not full, enough). Dairy fat is good for us. Full fat is more satiating and has fewer other things in it than low or no fat. If you like yogurt, use it, but that's a completely different dish. If you want low calorie (why eat at all, just drink protein shakes), make a different dish.


Just wondering if you could use this technique on a whole chicken?

Kate Ped

I need some help! I cooked the chicken exactly as described and in an enameled cast-iron dutch oven. At the end of 2 hours I had super tender but almost completely raw chicken. I am wondering if perhaps my pot was not big enough. It fit the chicken as the recipe called for - "snugly but not much bigger" but maybe it wasn't deep enough because I could only cover the chicken with a half inch of water. Anyone have an idea to help me? I am ending up cooking the chicken again- will prob be tough!

Ben L

You need a deeper pot, because that extra two inches of water is extremely important for maintaining the proper temperature.

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Best Chicken Salad Recipe (2024)


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