Chicken salad is a salad in which chopped, cooked chicken is the star ingredient. People may eat it on its own as an appetizer or entree, or serve it in sandwiches, and it is an especially common snack food in the American South. Many people make chicken salad to use up leftover chicken, and chicken can also be roasted, steamed, or fried specifically for the purpose of making the salad.
Classically, chicken salad is made by mixing chicken with a fat-rich dressing and an assortment of vegetables to form a chunky mixture. Basic recipes may include chopped chicken, celery, sweet onions, and parsley in a dressing made with mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, and a dash of oil and vinegar. This is only the beginning of a long list of potential ingredients, however.
Curried chicken salad, for example, includes curry paste or powder for a spicy flavor. The dish can also be made with fruit like apples or dried cranberries for a sweeter take on the traditional version, and it may include things like raisins, slivered almonds, walnuts, jicama, and a variety of other vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Typically, all of the ingredients are chopped to more or less the same size so that the salad has a uniform texture.
In addition to the mayonnaise dressing commonly used with chicken salad, cooks can also make creamy dressings, cheese-based dressings, and so forth. Sometimes, a vinaigrette may be used instead of the more traditional cream dressing, to reduce the fat content of the salad. Chicken may also be grilled, which gives the dish a smoky flavor, and ingredients like chopped hard boiled eggs or other meats can be added to the dish as well for more variation.
Chicken salad can be served on a bed of lettuce, spooned into pita pockets, or served as a traditional sandwich. Some people also enjoy it warm, or in a melt, which includes chicken salad and cheese on bread, toasted so that the cheese melts and the salad warms through.
There are some food safety concerns with chicken salad. It should not be stored at room temperature, or allowed to sit out at room temperature unless the dressing is acidic. If the dish is being taken on a picnic, packing it in an ice chest or chilled carrier can keep it safe to eat, and sandwiches should ideally be refrigerated if they are not going to be eaten right away.