I wait all year long for grapes to come into season just so I can make my favorite chicken salad. All .. year .. long! I still make it during the rest of the year, but it isn’t quite as good without the snap and sweetness of fresh red grapes. Oh, and they have to be the red seedless ones because they are prettier, LOL! But use whatever you can find and that your family will eat. From July to September when the grapes are at their sweetest, I alternate chicken salad sandwiches with heirloom tomato dishes.
Lemon juice lightly perfumes mayonnaise making this perfect for hot summer days. I only use Light mayonnaise for everything. I find that the lower fat content is just as satisfying without leaving a heavy coating on my tongue. Do not substitute Miracle Whip – the sweetness doesn’t go with these ingredients. If you are watching your calories and want to substitute some yogurt, it will add a slight sourness, so I would leave out the capers in that case.
Poaching foods can be intimidating for people who haven’t done it yet, but it is one of the easiest techniques in the kitchen to learn. Essentially you make a flavored broth with water and white wine, add aromatics like onions and herbs, and simmer it to infuse the flavors. Then you add your protein (chicken and fish are most common) and very gently cook it at a slow simmer. This is just below the boiling point. There will be some very small bubbles. Your chicken will be tender, moist and lightly flavored – perfect to add to this salad!
If you have leftover chicken from the barbecue or roasting, it will work perfectly as well. And don’t forget the grocery store’s rotisserie chickens when you are in a time crunch. You just have to debone it and chop into cubes or shred it. Whenever I am grilling or roasting chicken, I always make twice what we need for dinner and use the leftovers to either make this salad, tacos or enchiladas. It saves a lot on my workload and everyone gets delicious home made meals without as much effort.
There are two main tools for getting the maximum amount of juice from lemons and other citrus fruits. The first is a reamer, the original design that is still my favorite. This is the same design used in electric and other mechanized juicers. When using a reamer always work over a fine wire strainer to catch the seeds and excess pulp. The second tool that is used by nearly every bartender is a squeezer. It has two rounded sections that fit one inside the other. Place a lemon half in one side, cut side down, and press the other half over it, squeezing the juice out.
This salad can be served as a sandwich or salad. If you are making this for sandwiches, you might want to shred the chicken. It is a little easier to work with and holds together better in between slices of bread. If you are serving this as a salad over lettuce, dress the greens lightly with vinaigrette and place a scoop of the salad on top. Garnish with fresh tomatoes or cucumbers for textural interest. Use an ice cream scoop for a professional looking plate.
When grapes are not in season, a close second for me is substituting sweetened dried cranberries, lightly plumped in boiling water. I like their tanginess. But make sure you get the sweetened ones, otherwise you’ll walk around puckered up like you just sucked on a lemon! Golden raisins also make a good substitute for fresh grapes. You can also make this salad with other types of poultry. This is especially good during the holidays when you have leftover turkey and cranberries lying around waiting to be turned into something scrumptious.
Enjoy this salad in the heat of the summer and then again any time you want an easy and comforting meal. Get ready, the Olympics start in just two days!!
- Chicken Poaching Liquid (Court Bouillon)
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 2 shallots, peeled and studded with 4 whole cloves
- 1 whole clove garlic, peeled
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 pieces
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 to 10 whole peppercorns
- 2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
- 3 cups medium diced cooked chicken (roasted, rotisserie, or poached, see recipe following)
- 2/3 cup finely diced celery
- 1 tsp well drained capers, minced
- 1/4 cup finely minced red onion
- 1 cup red seedless grapes, halved or quartered, or dried sweetened cranberries, plumped
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, lightly bruised
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup light mayonnaise, or to taste
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
- Kosher salt to taste
- 4 large croissants or 8 slices of artisan bread
- 4 washed and dried green or red leaf lettuce leaves
- To Poach the Chicken: Combine water and wine in a large pot, big enough to hold all the chicken. Add remaining poaching ingredients, except the chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 more minutes, to infuse the water with the flavors of the additions. Skim any foam that collects on top and discard it.
- Add the chicken, there should be enough liquid to cover the chicken, and cook for 20 minutes, keeping the liquid just below a boil, about medium-low. Turn off the heat, move the pot off the heat and let chicken sit in the broth until cool. This finishes the cooking without drying the chicken out. Do not leave out of refrigeration longer than 2 hours for food safety.
- Transfer to a container and store the chicken submersed in some of the liquid, in the refrigerator until ready to use, or up to 2 days. The remaining liquid can be strained and used as a base for making chicken soup or you can poach additional chicken in it. It will hold in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
- To Make the Salad: You can poach the chicken as directed below, or use barbecued, roasted or sauteed chicken. This is the perfect place to use rotisserie chicken from the market and save yourself some time! Chop into small bite-sized pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Stir in celery, capers, onions, grapes, and thyme. Toss until evenly distributed.
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon pepper, and salt. Stir thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir half of seasoned mayonnaise into chicken mixture. Add remaining as desired, depending on how “wet” you like your salad. Hint: if you are using a delicate bread like brioche, you may want to use less so it doesn’t get soggy.
- Split croissants in half or set out the bread slices, line with a lettuce leaf, and fill with equal amounts of chicken salad. Serve immediately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings