Isn't chicken salad kind of a dish for wimps? It reminds me of pay-by-the-pound delis and church picnics, of gobs of mayonnaise and stringy chicken. In the hierarchy, it's below both tuna salad and egg salad, so I usually don't see the point of bothering. True, I get a little more interested when curry powder and raisins are in the picture, but the usual celery and mayo schtick? Not thrilled.
Despite this, I was swayed by The Silver Palate cookbook, a contemporary classic (growing up, it seemed to be on the shelves of every friends' mother I knew). Its recipe for chicken salad hit all the clichéd notes, but added one crucial new one—pungent tarragon, which sets it apart from the rest.
In the original recipe, the chicken is baked with crème fraîche and the salad is made with sour cream mixed into mayonnaise. I adapted it to be healthier and cheaper by losing the crème fraîche and sour cream and replacing both with plain yogurt. It kept the chicken succulent and moist while cooking, and the dressing was lighter. This makes a nice summer dinner with some greens and good bread.
- 3 pounds boneless chicken breasts
- 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 celery ribs, cut into 1 inch long pencil strips
- 1/2 cup shelled walnuts (optional)
- 3 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 tablespoon dried
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cover with 1 cup of the yogurt in a snug roasting dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
Whisk together remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Shred cooked chicken or cut into cubes and mix into the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.