For Southern Ladies, it’s chicken salad

Tuck tropical flavored Rotisserie chicken Salad into a whole wheat pita for a delicious lunch on the lanai.

Ahhh, lunchtime in America. We “brown bag” it; drive-thru it, or skip it all together. We combine it with business and sometimes a martini or three. Sometimes we juice it or, if times are desperate, we indulge in a protein bar.

However, there are entire groups of ladies in the South who still show the noon hour the respect it deserves. When these ladies gather, nothing but a sit down luncheon will do. And, in the South, the only suitable centerpiece of a sit-down ladies luncheon is chicken salad. As Nathalie Dupree has said, “What else could you possibly serve to ladies?”

Today, chicken salad can usually be found in plastic containers tucked away in refrigerated cases and delis. But Chicken Salad has a long history of being an elegant main dish served simply and deliciously in a cool, crisp lettuce cup. And I am grateful to the ladies who seek to preserve this lovely tradition.

There are many types of chicken salad. Everyday salad, from the plastic container is mixed smooth and usually has sweet pickle relish. It’s best to eat on crackers or in a sandwich. Chicken salad for a ladies luncheon is an entirely different species. Luncheon chicken salad is chunky and full of interesting bits like nuts, shallots or even grapes. The most fastidious of cooks will insist on homemade mayonnaise with a bit of lemon juice as the only dressing. For me, the only thing I absolute require is freshly ground black pepper and lots of it.

Make sure you get a plain chicken for this recipe. Spices, rubs and barbeque do not mix well with this recipe. Take care to find a high quality chicken; a poorly roasted bird will result in dry, stringy meat that may require extra dressing.

Rotisserie Style Chicken Salad
Yield: about 6 servings

1 Rotisserie chicken, about 1 ½ to 2 pounds
¼ cup finely diced sweet onion
¼ cup finely diced celery
¼ cup finely diced jicama
½ cup chopped macadamia nuts, toasted
1 (8 ounce) can of pineapple tidbits, drained
1 cup toasted coconut, reserve ¼ cup for garnish
Dressing, ingredients follow

Allow the chicken too cool completely; remove all the meat from the carcass, discarding the skin. If the chicken in in large pieces, run a knife through it to chop it into bite sized pieces. Transfer the chicken to a large mixing bowl.

Add the onion, celery, jicama, macadamia nuts, pineapple and ¾ cup of the toasted coconut. Carefully toss to combine. Chill before serving.

Right before serving, mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Dress the salad, starting with half the dressing mix and adding more as necessary.

Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon curry powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Deli Chicken Salad
Yield: about 6 servings

1 pound deli roast chicken (ask for one thick slice so you can make cubes of chicken whatever size you want)
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup finely chopped sweet onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup carrots, cut in matchstick pieces
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon honey Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dressing (recipe follows)

Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces; place in a large mixing bowl. Add the cranberries, onion, celery, carrots and pecans. Carefully toss to combine. Chill before serving.

Right before serving, mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Dress the salad, starting with half the dressing mix and adding more as necessary.

Personally, this is my favorite. I believe poaching brings out the very best in a chicken breast and the flavorful court bouillon adds layers of flavor to the succulent chicken.

Poached Chicken Salad
Yield: 4-6 servings

2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
White wine for poaching
2-3 springs of fresh tarragon
5 whole peppercorns
¼ cup finely diced shallots
¼ cup finely diced celery
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
green grapes
Dressing

Generously salt and pepper the chicken; allow to rest loosely covered and at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Prepare the poaching liquid by combining equal parts of white wine with water. The poaching liquid should barely cover the chicken, the amount of wine and water will vary due to the size of the pan and the thickness of the chicken breasts. Add the tarragon sprigs and peppercorns. Heat the liquid until it is almost boiling, do not allow the mixture to boil. Reduce the heat until an instant read thermometer reads 180°F. If you do not have a thermometer, then keep the liquid just below a simmer. Gently poach the chicken, turning as needed, for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the liquid and cool completely.
Shred the cooled chicken and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the shallots, celery and almonds. Carefully toss to combine.
Chill.

Right before serving, fold in as many grapes as you’d like, cut in half. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Dress the salad, starting with half the dressing and adding more as necessary.

Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon tarragon vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If you’re looking for a little bite to serve with a lettuce cup full of luncheon chicken salad, look no further than sour cream muffins.

Sour Cream Muffins
Yield: 24 mini muffins

1 stick butter, softened
½ cup of sour cream
½ cup of milk
1 cup of self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a mini muffing pan with non-stick spray, set aside.
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until just combined. Do not over mix. Fill the muffin tin wells 2/3 full and bake the muffins for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

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