Nobody's perfect. We all have the opportunity to learn and grow our skills in everything in life. Gene has admitted a couple of times over the years that my chicken salad is, well, a little boring. He likes the way I make potato salad, devilled eggs, and tuna salad, but says my chicken salad is "just okay". Not that he's a jerk. He's my most enthusiastic supporter and eater, and over 25 years my cooking has put 20 lbs on his once too-skinny frame, so I take no offense. He loves my cooking but I took this as an opportunity to improve my skills.
I added a rotisserie chicken to his grocery list this weekend while I was working, just for this purpose, and decided to go back to the basics and re-learn how to make a good, basic, no frills, chicken salad. Who better than Julia Child to teach me?
After reading over a dozen recipes that were either similar to my way or added more frills (pineapple, grapes, nuts, pasta, etc) than I wanted for a classic dish, I hit upon Julia Child's "Deluxe Chicken or Turkey Salad from her book The Way to Cook. The ingredients are basic but the preparation is not. Julia uses a two-step method with a ten minute recess that does, indeed, produce a classic, no frills, but delicious and flavorful chicken salad perfect for the classic all-American "Iron Kids" sandwich. With Julia's method, she tosses the chopped meat with olive oil, herbs, and seasonings, and lets those ingredients get comfy with each other before coming back and binding it together with the mayo. The two step method makes a world of difference in how the final dish's flavor resonates. The chicken and herb flavors take the lead and happen to be bound together with mayo rather than mayo flavor dominating. Adding the fruit, nuts, etc, would also work well with this recipe but for those like my hubs who like it on the "classic" side, this is the recipe and method we'll be using, and he agrees. (Personally, I love the walnuts in it--I love the crunch!)
In four days, August 15th will be the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birth. We are all better cooks for her enthusiasm and her career. Thank You, Julia!
Julia Child's Deluxe Chicken or Turkey Salad
Recipe by Julia Child from The Way to Cook published by Alfred Knopf
- 6 cups chopped cooked chicken or turkey (rotisserie chicken or leftover turkey work well)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced or 1/4 cup dried parsley (I used 1/4 cup fresh for our tastes)
- 1 tsp fresh tarragon, minced or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
- 1-2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used 1 Tbsp)
- 2-3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used the juice of one big lemon but didn't measure since that's all I had. I would guess almost 2 Tbsp)
- 1 cup diced celery (leaves in the mix also works great)
- 1/2 cup mild onion or scallions, chopped fine
- 3/4 cup home made mayonnaise or commerically prepared mayonnaise
- 1 cup Optional: walnuts, chopped
Preliminary seasoning. Toss the chicken or turkey in a big mixing bowl with the salt, pepper, and enough oil to enrobe the meat very lightly. Then toss with the lemon juice, and finally with the herbs, celery, onions, and optional walnuts. Taste analytically, correct seasoning. Let steep 10 minutes, tossing everal times.
* Ahead-of-time note: May be completed a day in advance to this point; cover and refrigerate.
Final seasoning. Drain any accumulated liquid out of the salad, correct seasoning again, and fold in just enough mayonnaise to enrobe the ingredients.
Decorative suggestions: 2 hard-boiled eggs, a large handful of fresh parsley, several strips of red pimento.
Makes 7 cups.
Nutrition per 1 cup serving: Calories: 191; Protein: 6; Carbs: 2.2; Fat: 18; Fiber: 1 Weight Watchers Points: 5
Nutrition note: By simply cutting the mayo back to 1/2 cup (from 3/4 cup) in the recipe and only using the smaller amount of olive oil (1 Tbsp), the calories reduce to 150 and the fat to 11 grams for 1 cup. I wouldn't recommend completely omitting the olive oil in the first step simply because it is healthy and it helps meld the flavors together and with that little pre-fat, much less mayo is needed to get that creamy chicken salad texture and taste that's so satisfying.