This morning the fog rolled up from Puget Sound, past Ballard and toward Phinney Ridge, and I thought of the occasional foggy mornings on Cape Cod, and of eating chicken salad in kitchens so close to the ocean that I could see the fog hanging around inside, too, right there above the sink.
You might have guessed that I love chicken salad. But you probably don’t know the whole story.
I used to avoid foods that combined anything meatish and the word “salad” on the same label. Ditto with tomatoes, anything with a sauce, anything spicy, or anything not immediately identifiable.
But seriously – the chicken salad thing stuck with me until just a few years ago. It seemed . . .I dunno. Too squishy.
Then Michaela introduced me to good chicken salad. Willow Tree Farm chicken salad, to be exact. You might describe it as “premium” grocery store deli counter chicken salad. I started buying it at Shaw’s in Falmouth when I was shopping for my personal chef clients (and hey – wow – the thought of shopping in a massive grocery store seems so strange right now). I rarely had time to eat a proper lunch, and it was a fast, convenient, tasty way to shove a thousand calories down in, oh, about ten forkfuls. It got me through the day.
But then I started buying it at home, when friends visited, and in the winters, when I definitely didn’t need any more calorie-dense foods in my refrigerator.
The fog reminded me that I haven’t even looked for Willow Tree here. It disappeared from my life, like braces and pegged pants.
I just cruised over to the Willow Tree website, for old times’ sake. I thought I might stumble across a place to order it online – the things one could do with a ten-pound bucket – but I was unwittingly lured to a page with nutritional information. It turns out that about 75% of my love for Willow Tree Farm chicken salad (a.k.a. calories) comes from fat. Tons of mayo and sugar, too. No wonder I loved it.
Then I looked around online some more, and found I can actually order it. I started daydreaming – three pounds of chicken salad, fresh on my front porch. Maybe I could use it to patch the hole in my heart where Willow Tree used to be. Or just glue it to my thighs, as my mother used to be so fond of saying.
Luckily, I caught myself before circling the drain of chicken salad desire. There’s a reason I like it, I thought, and I can most likely duplicate it, maybe even do my body more good than harm.
And I can have it for lunch.
See, I really like it when chicken salad is shreddy – yes, that’s a technical term, shreddy, as opposed to square and/or chunky. Because the gooey stuff gets between the strands of shredded chicken better than it does between whole chunks of chicken, shreddy chicken salad – like the stuff from Willow Tree – is more moist in the mouth. It also holds a sandwich together more effectively, and is better at grabbing mix-ins in. Grapes and almonds, apples and walnuts, pecans and craisins, various herbs . . .
But hear this: if you make chicken salad in a stand mixer, separating the chicken meat by beating it apart into strands with the paddle attachment, it’s possible to make a rough estimate of the Willow Tree texture. That is, as long as you don’t start with dry chicken.
But even with perfectly tender chicken, there’s still the problem of moisteners: I know roughly what it’ll take to achieve the silky mouthfeel and slightly sweet flavor of Willow Tree, but I can’t physically bring myself to add that stuff in.
Here’s a good compromise, a shreddy chicken salad, made with some of the good stuff and some of the bad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is which.
I stuffed it into a pita, and the chicken salad had enough (hmm, insert something a physics PhD would say here – Tito? Carlos? Melanie? Is it surface tension?) that when the pita started breaking down, as they always seem to do, the chicken salad didn’t come cascading down the front of my white tank top and ruin my lunchtime porch session.
No, I waited until later and poured cold coffee down the inside of said tank top instead.
Oh, my. We’re going back east soon for a visit. Maybe I’ll have to hit the grocery store.
Recipe for Shreddy Apple-Walnut Chicken Salad
Recipe 207 of 365
Whipping chicken in a stand mixer is a good, quick alternative to chopping it, and leads to chicken salad with just the right “shreddy” texture.
If you’re using fresh roasted chicken for this (the small rotisserie birds from the grocery store are perfect!), remove all the skin first, then tear the meat off and chop it into roughly 2” – 3” pieces before adding it to the mixer. Be sure to use both the light and the dark meat.
TIME: 15 minutes (with cooked chicken)
MAKES: 4 to 6 sandwiches
1 pound cooked chicken (from a 3- to 4-pound rotisserie chicken, or 1 1/4 pounds raw chicken breasts, cooked)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Pink Lady or Granny Smith apple, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, using on-off pulses “whip” the chicken on medium speed until it reaches the desired consistency – whipping longer will result in smaller pieces. (Use your hands to tear apart extra long pieces, if necessary.) Add mayonnaise, yogurt, and mustard, season with salt and pepper, and mix until combined and creamy, about 15 seconds. Add additional mayo or yogurt, if you want a wetter consistency, and stir in the remaining ingredients.