Hold the mayo, please. Chicken salad recipes with an international twist
This summer staple can be so much more than a mix of chicken, mayonnaise, and celery.
These recipes are part of a new partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.
Chicken salad may be an American staple of brown-bag lunches and summertime barbecues, but it can be so much more than a mix of chicken, mayonnaise, and celery. Around the world, people create boldly seasoned versions rich with flavor and texture. In China, they up the flavor by shredding the chicken to better absorb a flavorful dressing. We use savory-sweet Japanese miso to add complexity to a basic rotisserie bird. And from Korea, fiery gochujang blended with pine nuts creates a mildly spicy-creamy sauce for the shredded meat.
Sichuan Chicken Salad
Makes 4 servings
Traditionally, the meat for this salad is pounded to shreds to better absorb the dressing. We get similar results by mashing it using a sturdy wooden spoon and a bowl — just don’t use a fragile bowl. We love the floral, piney notes of Sichuan peppercorns. Toast them over medium heat for about 2 minutes; grind them to a fine powder with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Don’t boil the chicken for long; the meat will dry out. Residual heat gently poaches the chicken, guaranteeing it stays moist and tender.
Two 10 to 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
6 scallions, white parts coarsely chopped, green parts thinly sliced on a bias, reserved separately
1-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into 4 pieces and smashed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
¼ cup dry sherry (optional)
2 tablespoons chili oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1½ tablespoons white sugar
1½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (optional), toasted and finely ground
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced crosswise on a bias
⅓cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
In a large saucepan, place the chicken skin side down, then add the scallion whites, ginger, garlic, and 1½ teaspoons of salt. Add 4 cups of water and the sherry, if using, fully submerging the chicken. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then cover, turn off the heat, and it let sit until the chicken registers 160 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover the pan and let the chicken cool in the liquid for 30 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the chili oil, tahini, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, 1½ teaspoons of salt, Sichuan peppercorns, if using, and cayenne.
Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the skin and bones, then transfer the meat to a large sturdy bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing, then use a wooden spoon to smash the meat, working the dressing into it and shredding it. Use your fingers to pull the shreds into bite-size pieces. Add the cucumber and three-quarters each of the peanuts and scallion greens. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and scallions.
Miso-Ginger Chicken Salad
Makes 4 servings
For this quick, flavor-packed salad, we dress the shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken with a tangy, gingery miso dressing. Sliced cucumber and a generous dose of herbs add freshness, and slivered almonds bring a pleasing crunch. One 3-pound rotisserie chicken will yield about 3 cups of shredded meat. The dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated up to four days.
Don’t use the dressing immediately after blending; allowing it to stand for at least 30 minutes lets the flavors meld.
1/3 cup white miso
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
⅔cup slivered almonds, toasted, divided
1/3 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt and ground white pepper
½ cup grape seed or other neutral oil
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (see note)
6 medium scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
In a blender, combine 1/3 cup water, the miso, ginger, ⅓cup of the almonds, the lime juice, mustard, honey, and ½ teaspoon white pepper. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the oil and blend until thick, about 1 minute. Transfer to a jar, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, scallions, cilantro, cucumber, and remaining ⅓cup almonds. Add 1 cup of the dressing and toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.
Korean Chicken Salad (Dak Naengchae)
Makes 4 servings
Pine nuts blended with water and a few seasonings create a rich, creamy dressing for this easy chicken salad. Korean mustard called gyeoja would be the authentic choice here, but we use regular yellow mustard and add a hit of spice with gochujang, a widely available Korean fermented chili paste. Use whatever vegetables suit your taste. Good choices include sliced radishes, shredded iceberg lettuce, grated carrots, and sliced bell peppers.
Don’t use the pine nuts without first toasting them. Toasting produces a richer, fuller-flavored dressing.
8 ounces green beans, trimmed
¾ cup pine nuts, toasted, divided
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon gochujang
3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
3 cups sliced or shredded cooked chicken
8 ounces red cabbage, shredded (3 cups)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
2 scallions, thinly sliced on bias
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then immediately add them to the ice water. Let stand just until cool, about 1 minute, then drain again. Pat the beans dry, cut in half, and set aside.
Set aside 3 tablespoons of pine nuts for garnish. In a blender, process the remaining pine nuts to a coarse paste, scraping the sides as needed, about 20 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, the mustard, gochujang, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth and pourable, about 30 seconds.
In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with about ½ cup of the dressing and the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, then taste and season with salt. In another medium bowl, toss together the green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, the remaining dressing, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter. Spoon the chicken over the center and sprinkle with the reserved pine nuts and the scallions.