Chicken salad is mentioned in US cookbooks dating back to the early 1800s,1 but it's likely this traditional dish came to be long before that. It's said the Chinese were actually the first to mix together chicken with oil and spices, creating the first variation of Asian chicken salad.
American chicken salad, at its most basic level, is a mixture of chicken and mayonnaise (or a similar "binder") along with various additions like celery and onions. It was reportedly first served in America at a Rhode Island meat market called Town Meats in 1863. The owner mixed leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon and grapes and customers loved it.2
If you're looking for a filling and healthy lunch or dinner, try the herbed chicken salad recipe below,3 and be sure to keep reading for tips on how to make classic chicken salad healthier than ever.
Did You Know?
- Herbed chicken salad, served over greens, makes a healthy and filling lunch or dinner
- Avoid typical CAFO chicken and instead use organic pastured chicken from a local farmer
- Swapping typical commercial mayo with your own homemade variety will make your chicken salad truly good for you
Herbed Chicken Salad Recipe
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ¼ cup basil leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh dill sprigs
- 2 oil-packed anchovies, drained
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1⁄3 cup homemade mayonnaise (based on avocado or olive oil and egg, see below)
- 1⁄3 cup raw sour cream
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. cooked organic, free-range chicken, shredded
- 2 jarred roasted red peppers, well-drained and chopped (or substitute fresh roasted peppers)
- 3 inner celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
- 8 cups mixed salad greens
- ½ pound tomatoes, chopped
- Make the herbed mayonnaise: In a food processor, pulse the herbs, anchovies, and garlic until coarsely chopped. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, and lemon juice and process until smooth. Season to taste with the pepper.
- In a large bowl, toss the herbed mayonnaise with the chicken, peppers, and celery. Serve on the salad greens and garnish with the tomatoes.
The Quality of Your Chicken Matters
One factor that will make or break the quality of your chicken salad is, not surprisingly, the chicken. Be prepared that if you watch the video above – a clip from Food, Inc. that shows the reality of industrial chicken farms or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) – you may lose your appetite.
You'll see chickens with oversized breasts, which distort their body proportions so badly they can barely walk. You'll see chickens that are diseased and dying (or already dead), all packed into a huge dark pen. This is inhumane, clearly, but it's also unhealthy – grossly so.
Nearly all (99 percent) of American chickens come from CAFOs like the one in the video above (or worse). These animals are typically fed genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans, which is a far cry from their natural diet of seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Byproducts of processing, such as chicken feathers and other animal parts, can also be added to the feed. This unnatural diet further exacerbates disease promulgation.
To prevent the inevitable spread of disease from stress, overcrowding, lack of vitamin D (as CAFO chickens may never see the light of day), and an unnatural diet, the animals are routinely fed antibiotics.
Those antibiotics pose a direct threat to human health, and contaminate the environment when they run off into lakes, rivers, aquifers, and drinking water. According to a landmark "Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report" published by the CDC, at least 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections.4
According to a University of Florida report that reviewed data on the 14 pathogens that cause 95 percent of total cases of food-borne illness, poultry was found to cause more food-borne disease than any other food, amounting to $2.4 billion in costs of illness.5
The primary bacteria to blame were Campylobacter, followed by Salmonella. Campylobacter bacteria are found on chicken carcasses in slaughterhouses and in commercial poultry products – including on the outside of poultry packaging – where they can easily infect you, your children or even your pets.
This Is How Chicken Is Supposed to Be Raised...
I strongly encourage you to avoid CAFO chicken and instead choose food sourced from local farms that are raising chickens the right way. The chickens should be allowed outside and they should be able to roam and eat insects and other natural foods. Please watch my video above with farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm to see how this looks in the real world.
Fortunately, finding high-quality pastured chickens (and organic eggs) is relatively easy, as virtually every rural area has small farmers with chickens. If you live in an urban area, visiting the local health food stores and farmers' markets are typically the quickest route to finding high-quality local chicken sources. If you're buying chicken from a typical grocery store, be aware that labels can be misleading. Look for organic "pasture raised" poultry – and follow up with the producer to find out exactly how much time the chickens spend on pasture.
How to Make Homemade Mayonnaise
The other factor that can make or break the health value of your chicken salad is the mayonnaise. Most prepared mayos are made with primarily GE soybean oil, one of the most harmful oils you can eat. This type of oil, whether partially hydrogenated, organic, or made from newer soybean varieties modified in such a way as to not require hydrogenation, are highly processed and wreak chaos in your body at the cellular level, paving the way for problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to reproductive disorders and heart disease.
The majority of soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered and, as a result, are saturated with dangerous levels of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been linked to a growing list of serious health problems. Even though you may not consider mayonnaise a sweet product, most commercial varieties also contain high fructose corn syrup or other forms of fructose, which adds to the toxic load on your liver.
If you think you can't live without your mayo, consider using an organic variety made with olive oil or grapeseed oil. Many people also enjoy mashed avocado in place of mayonnaise, or you can simply make your own homemade mayo. Mayonnaise is easy to make in a blender and, when made with healthy oils and fresh, organic eggs, is actually good for you. If you make your own, it won't last as long but it will taste much better, and you just make smaller batches.
Good mayo requires only a few basic ingredients: olive oil, organic egg yolks, vinegar or lemon juice, mustard, and a little unprocessed salt. Whip the ingredients together (adjust the amounts to your taste) and you have a spread that's not only good for you, but tastes so delicious you won't ever want to go back to the store-bought version.
Poached or Roasted? What's the Best Way to Prepare Chicken for Chicken Salad?
If you're a seasoned cook or foodie, you may be familiar with the debate over poached or roasted meat for chicken salad. The former, poached, yields a moist, smooth chicken salad while the latter, roasted, adds flavor and more texture. There's no "right" answer, and you might end up using whatever type you have on hand. Making chicken salad is an excellent way to use up leftover roast chicken, and if you're in a pinch some health food stores have organic rotisserie chicken already cooked.
Perhaps the best way to prepare the chicken for your chicken salad, however, is to poach the meat in the process of making a healthy bone broth using a whole chicken. You'll know the meat is ready when it starts to separate from the bone. Simply remove the chicken for your chicken salad and continue simmering the broth (which you can later eat alone or make into a chicken soup).
+ Sources and References