Ready to Shred
So rumor has it that chicken salad comes in a can? I had no idea – I’d never touched the stuff. Truly, my first taste of chicken salad came from the Corner Bakery in Tysons Corner. There, diced chicken, apples and celery (and supposedly currants and red onion according to their website – neither were memorable) are nestled between slices of pumpernickel studded with walnuts and raisins. It was insanely good, and that wasn’t even including their homemade kettle-cooked potato chips.
I haven’t been to the place in years, so I can’t speak for what the sandwich tastes like now. No matter, though, because over the years, I’ve just been making this super simple chicken salad, and it surpasses all expectations that I’ve had for that Corner Bakery sandwich. It’s the perfect marriage of sweet and savory, with the lovely zing of lemon and dijon to wake the whole thing up. Tender white meat chicken becomes moist and delicious in a fine poaching liquid of lemon and pepper. And if you can score a really good artisinal bread, it’s a treat and a half. Dennis and I ambled over to the SpaHa Bakery on 116th and Lexington, and were able to purchase some Mulitgrain Foccacia for him and a Cranberry Walnut Pullman Loaf for me. What a treat that place is! Between the excellent bread choices and the freshly prepped chicken salad goodness, Dennis put the sandwich in the Pantheon of his top 5 sandwiches of all time. I expect him to print out a certificate for this honor and frame it for me for Christmas.
Chicken Salad with Tarragon and Apples
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
20-30 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 tbs. of sugar
1/2 c. of salt
4 cups of water
1/2 of a tart apple (granny smith or empire), diced
1 stalks of celery, sliced on the bias
1 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of white pepper
1 tsp. of freshly cracked pepper
1 tbs. of good dijon mustard
4 tbs. of mayo (or less)
2 tbs. of fresh tarragon, chopped
zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional)
pumpernickle or whole grain bread (with raisins, even better)
Begin by adding the juice of 4 lemons, peppercorns, bay leaves, sugar, salt and water to a pot. Add chicken to the liquid and bring to a boil. Let the chicken boil away on high for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat and put a lid on the pot. Let the whole mess sit covered for 15 minutes – the chicken will continue to cook and will take in the flavor of the lemon and bay leaves. Take the chicken out of the liquid and let cool.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred in a large bowl. Toss chicken with apples and celery. Add salt, pepper, mustard, mayo, tarragon and lemon zest. Refrigerate until cool. Serve on really good bread with lettuce and tomato.
- Skip the bread and serve as filling for lettuce wraps – boston (butter) lettuce works well.
- Shred the chicken finely before mixing with salad ingredients and use as filling for phyllo cups (in the frozen food section near the ice cream). Dot each cup with a slice of cherry tomato and a tarragon leaf.
- Leave out the tarragon and toss the chicken with cooled pasta, diced tomato, crumbled bacon, and chopped lettuce for a Pasta Club Salad.