Fresh and Fabulous Chicken Salads

Jeanne Briggs
Jeanne Briggs


Of all the myriad preparations to which chicken so beautifully adapts, perhaps none is as simple or as popular as the salad. Chicken provides a light but flavorful foil for any number of other flavors: chicken with apples, chicken with olives, curried chicken with chutney, chicken with avocados-the combinations are endless. First you will have to begin with poached chicken, and I have added a master recipe for poaching perfect chicken that will remain moist in the salad. Let’s start cooking!

Poached Chicken Breasts

Place the chicken breasts in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water or broth. Add salt to the water if you wish, but it is not necessary. Bring slowly to a simmer over moderately low heat. Simmer skinless, boneless breasts for 10 to 15 minutes; chicken on the bone with skin for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let chicken cool in liquid if you have time, or pat dry and use immediately. To keep the chicken moist and juicy, cover with cooking liquid and store in refrigerator. Use within a day or two.

Bombay Salad

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mango chutney, such as Major Grey’s, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 cups diced (1/2-inch) cooked chicken
1 bunch watercress, large stems removed
3 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
4 plums, sliced
2 kiwi, peeled and sliced

Combine sour cream, chutney, limejuice, curry powder, 1/4 cup of the coconut, and the almonds. In a medium bowl, toss chicken with 3/4 cup of the curry dressing. Cover and refrigerate chicken mixture and remaining curry dressing separately for about 30 minutes to develop the flavors, or longer if desired. To serve, arrange watercress around the edge of the platter. Mound the chicken salad in the center. Arrange peaches, plums, and kiwi alternately around the chicken. Sprinkle remaining toasted coconut on top. Serve extra dressing on the side. Serves 4.

Sante Fe Layered Salad

3 cups cooked cubed chicken
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen, thawed
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red pepper, diced
2/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 cup mayonnaise
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

In a 2-quart glass bowl, layer half of the chicken. Make another layer of all of the corn and then the beans. Layer remaining chicken, then bell pepper and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, minced jalapeño peppers, limejuice, mustard and salt. Spread over top of salad to cover completely. Refrigerate one hour or up to 8 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle cilantro on top. To serve, scoop down to get some of each layer of salad. Serves 6.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Tarragon Chicken Salad

(If good tomatoes are not in season, spoon the chicken salad into lettuce cups or hollowed-out bell peppers.)

4 large ripe tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 cups diced cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 small head of leaf lettuce
Tarragon sprigs for garnish

Cut tomatoes crosswise in half. Use a small knife or grapefruit spoon to scoop out seeds and pulp to form a shell. Sprinkle with salt and pepper then invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain, about 30 minutes. Pat dry. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, tarragon, salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken, celery and scallions. Stir to coat with dressing. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours to allow flavors to blend. To serve, spoon salad into tomato halves. Place two halves on a bed of lettuce on each of 4 serving plates. Garnish with tarragon sprigs. Serves 4.

Greek Chicken and Orzo Salad

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup orzo (pasta)
3 cups diced cooked chicken
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small yellow bell pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 small head of romaine lettuce
1 tomato, cut into 6 wedges
6 small fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, mint, salt and pepper. Set dressing aside. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook orzo until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add chicken, red onion, bell pepper, zucchini and olives to the orzo. Add dressing and toss to coat well. Let salad stand for 30 minutes before serving. On a large platter or 6 individual plates, make a bed of 2 romaine leaves. Spoon salad onto lettuce. Garnish with tomato wedges and mint sprigs. Serves 6.

Colorful Couscous Chicken Salad

1 cup packaged couscous
3 cups diced cooked chicken
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
3/4 cup thinly sliced baby carrots
1/2 cup sliced black olives
3/4 cup fresh mint sprigs
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 head romaine lettuce

Bring 1-3/4 cups salted water to a boil in a saucepan. Add couscous, remove from heat, and let stand, covered, until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer couscous to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Add chicken, bell pepper, scallions, carrots and olives. Toss to combine. In a food processor, finely chop mint and garlic. With machine running, add mustard, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil; process to blend well. Pour dressing over couscous and toss to mix. Add feta cheese and toss again. Line a large platter with romaine leaves. Spoon salad into center. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.

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