Back in the 90’s my parents owned a tearoom in Houston and this chicken salad was one of the most popular item on the menu. Our main business was for lunch time since we were surrounded by a lot of offices and within driving distance of NASA and many of their contractors. I was lucky enough to meet a few of the commanders of the space shuttles and we used to host a dinner for the wives of the astronauts. They were all such gracious people. I even saw HM The Queen as she was driving to NASA on one of her state visits. I was on the side of the road waving frantically and she and HRH Prince Philip waved back very majestically.
Thinking back on it now, the tearoom was a great little place but my interest wasn’t really in helping my parents run a restaurant. I did help and was cook, baker, caterer and hostess at various times, but back then my interest lay in Engineering and not in visions of billowing mounds of meringue or French pastry making techniques. How things change!
Once in a while, I did get that surge of enthusiasm and creativity and I would whip out a cookbook and create something. My profiteroles were a hit with many a dinner party we catered and I even attempted a Christmas fruit cake once (that was a flop, unfortunately.)
More often than not, the restaurant meant hard work and long hours. I would sit on the corner table closest to the coffee machine and work out mathematical conundrums and theoretical Physics problems while maintaining a Miss Universe-like smile serving customers (and downing gallons of coffee in between.) My father didn’t close for any holidays or hurricanes but he did give the staff off… except for the free labour he had at home. We were the schmucks that worked every Christmas, Easter, Eid Ul Fitr, Eid ul Adha and life threatening hurricane.
Now, I would do anything to have that tearoom back. Oh the things I would do with it. But that’s neither here nor there. I still have the recipes from the restaurant and make them often at home, with my little touches, of course.
This chicken salad was loved by everyone. It could be found piled high in sandwiches alongside a bowl of soup or fruit salad, or by itself stuffed inside a hollowed out tomato with the house fruit salad adorning either side. There were finger sandwiches, brown bag lunches and our famous Tri Salad ( a scoop of chicken salad, a scoop of tuna salad and a scoop of fruit salad served with tea bread/cream cheese finger sandwiches.)
The ingredients and preparation are simple and it pulls together really quickly. It has no fancy, schmancy ingredients but the simplicity of the ingredients it does contain work so well together and create an amazing balance of crunchiness, sweetness, saltiness and creaminess.
Everyone is probably wondering why I am going on about chicken salad in the dead of winter? School lunches. I have been making a lot of this to fill sandwiches for the kids’ lunches and my hubby’s lunch. There are only so many PB&J’s they will eat. I don’t like to use cold cuts on a regular basis because of the nitrites and phosphates etc. I’ll make this chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad and roast beef and chicken sandwiches.
I like to use just chicken breast in the salad; looks prettier and tastes better. You can use boneless chicken breast or bone in which is what I use. Just poach them or even bake them. The chicken breast mixes better with the mayonnaise if it is very soft, and for this reason I prefer to use poached or boiled chicken. I like to use a sweet, crisp apple, like Fuji here in the US. The sweetness really makes a difference in the salad. The celery provides the crunch.
The original tearoom salad used dried tarragon as the herb. I have a bad story where once I added too much and it really overpowered the salad and I have been afraid ever since! I use parsley now but it is very good with tarragon. The tarragon is what sets it apart from the other chicken salads and gives it a unique flavour. If you are not fond of tarragon’s anise-y flavour, leave it out. It’s good either way.
2 or 3 boneless chicken breasts, very softly poached, chopped
2 medium, sweet apples, small dice
2 large sticks celery, small dice
1 cup mayonnaise (may need less or more according to preference)
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon (add more if you like the flavour)
chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Toss together the chopped chicken breast, apples, celery, parsley and tarragon in large bowl.
Add the mayonnaise starting with 1/2 cup and mix.
Add the rest of the mayonnaise if needed, add salt and pepper to taste.
Don’t add too much salt until you get the consistency right since mayonnaise contains salt too.
Pile high in sandwiches, in a hollowed tomato or in an avocado.
Makes about 6-8 cups of chicken salad.
Hope you have a go and try this chicken salad, especially if you need to pack a lunch or take on road trips ( we had a supply on our trip.)
What are some of your favourite sandwich fillings or lunch box treats?
Hope you’re all having a great week!