HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY!
Today in 1971 Richard Hellmann died (born 1876). New York deli owner and creator of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.
When I was a kid, I had an aunt and uncle who owned a 2,000-Acre Hereford Ranch in Kiowa, Colorado. My aunt made the best potato salad in the world. The year I turned 11, my family spent the summer there, and she told me her secret:
1. Use real boiling potatoes. Not Russets. Don’t over boil them. It’s the texture.
2. Use real Best Foods Mayonnaise. We called it Best Foods where I grew up in California, but much of the United States knows it as Hellman’s.
As a young adult, cooking was definitely not a thing I was known for, but my potato salad was often requested by potluck and BBQ organizers. So, my aunt’s advice really came through for me!
Now that I eat low carb, potatoes are not my thing, so I transferred this knowledge to one of my life-long favorite dishes: CHICKEN SALAD.
Here are my suggestions for great chicken salad:
1. Make sure your chicken is moist and tender. Texture is critical.
The best cooking method I have found for this is POACHING!
Don’t over heat your chicken, especially if you use boneless, skinless white meat. If you can roast or grill chicken to perfection, I applaud you! Go for it. I find those methods dry out my chicken.
Use your favorite combination of acidic liquid, aromatics and herbs to flavor your poaching liquid, and keep the temperature below boiling. One poaching method is to boil it for the first few minutes to kill surface bacteria, and then lower the heat for the rest the cooking time. The safe internal temperature for cooked chicken is 165°F (75°C), so that’s my target temperature for the poaching liquid. As long as it’s hot enough to cook the chicken, the lower the better.
Salmonella bacteria are unable to grow above 130°F (54°C). Bacteria that like higher temperatures are not the dangerous ones that cause food borne illness in humans. So you decide what’s best to keep you healthy, whether or not you boil the liquid.
2. Use good mayonnaise.
If you can make your own, it makes a huge difference! If not, use your favorite store brand.
I do not recommend reduced-fat mayonnaise, primarily because LCHF is a high-fat diet, and healthy fats are included. Adulterating a natural fat, to reduce the fat content is not a healthier choice, in my opinion. Also, in the case of mayonnaise, most manufactured ones use fats I don’t consider to be very healthy! I try to stay away from too much soybean oil and vegetable seed oils like rapeseed/canola oil. You may notice that even the Best Foods Olive Oil brand lists soybean/canola oil on the ingredients list before the olive oil.
This maze of healthy and unhealthy fats leads many of us to the health food store or the home kitchen for our mayonnaise. Whatever mayonnaise you like the best, for whatever reasons, that’s the one you should use in your chicken salad. Don’t skimp on the mayo!
3. Spice up your dressing with seasonings and an acidic element!
My favorite acid is pickle juice.
Lemon, lime, a splash of apple cider vinegar, or maybe a light seasoned rice vinegar. It adds a wonderful tang and brightness to chicken salad. Not too much, unless you want to make a vinaigrette. I like mine rich and creamy. Very Mayonnaise-y! So just a splash will do.
Remember to add your favorite spices and seasonings. Celery seed is especially good! Add some curry powder for a special treat.
Cayenne Pepper adds some snap to your salad. I don’t use enough to actually feel the HEAT, unless I am doing a Mexican or Southwestern variation. I use just enough to *tickle* my taste buds a little.
Unfortunately, I have recently discovered that chiles and hot peppers make my joints swell, so I don’t use cayenne pepper any more. If you can tolerate it though, it really adds something to a mayonnaise-based salad.
Another way to add flavor to the dressing is to add some pre-made dressing, dip or flavored cream cheese. This can be either homemade or store bought. I especially like the garlic and fine herb flavored Boursin!
4. Add additional ingredients as desired!
Typically these include: celery, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, onions. But you can also add avocado, nuts, bacon. Anything! Be creative.
VEGETABLES. Tomatoes, carrots, jicama, watercress, capers, garlic, parsley, green chiles (Ortega Chiles), jalepeños. Really anything you can imagine. Cilantro. Personally, I hate cilantro, but if you like it, you should definitely try some in your chicken salad!
MEAT. The ever-popular BACON is a great addition to chicken salad. Be careful with bacon: Unless you want it to become bacon salad, use it sparingly! If you want a similar flavor that doesn’t overpower your salad as much, add some HAM. I really like a few chunks of polish sausage in my chicken salad.
I’ve never tried Italian sausage, but it you love Italian flavors, try adding some Italian sausage, salami or pepperoni, and maybe some fresh basil or oregano. I love Mexican flavors, which go very well in chicken salad, but there’s no reason not to try Tuscan or Sicilian flavors if that’s what you like!
NUTS. If you eat nuts, sprinkle some on as a salad topping. Almonds and walnuts are popular choices for chicken salad, but pecans are my favorite. Add Macadamias for a special treat! And don’t forget about coconut. Unsweetened, of course. And fresh, if it’s available. Coconut is delicious in chicken salad.
FRUIT. If you eat fruit, or dried fruit, orange sections, tart apples, strawberries, pineapple, raisins, Craisins (dried cranberries) or dried apricots are all tasty toppers. I’ve even seen a chicken salad topped with a slice of Kiwi. Most of my close-friends who follow LCHF avoid fruit completely, but some of us can tolerate more fruit than others. If you are making chicken salad for a potluck of carb eaters, and want to add the fruity wonders for your friends, save a portion for yourself before adding the carbs.
I pretty much avoid fruit altogether, unless I’m on a cruise in the Caribbean.
And here’s one final thought about fruit. Experiment with fruit-flavored extracts. If you have always loved mandarin orange sections in your chicken salad, and can’t have that any more because you have joined the LCHF revolution, try adding a few drops of orange extract, or orange essential oil, to your salad. Drink citrus-essence seltzer water with your salad. Maybe you can get the flavor you love without the carbs!
And, that’s it!
If you use a healthy-fat mayonnaise that is creamy and delicious, chicken that is moist and tender, a splash of acid, and a combination of additional ingredients that you love, your chicken salad will be fantastic!