There’s a hole in my heart where Willow Tree used to be

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.

Making shreddy chicken salad

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.

Shreddy Apple-Walnut Chicken Salad

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.


Filed under chicken, recipe, salad, sandwich

13 responses to “There’s a hole in my heart where Willow Tree used to be

  1. Rachel H.

    It might not be great for you, but at least all the ingredients in the Willow Tree salad are completely pronounceable and items I have cooked with myself. I recall Willow Tree was a sponsor of the post-race food offerings at the end of the Falmouth Road Race. It might be a great lunch on another day, but really, I can’t imagine lots of people were reaching for the heavy chicken salad right after finishing a hot, humid run. The Dole Fruit Popsicle people were getting a lot more takers that day.

    Let me know when you’ll be back East!

  2. KT

    I use yogurt to make chicken salad, too – but I make it into “yogurt cheese” first – put plain yogurt into a wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined colander, place in a large bowl to catch the liquid as it drains out, and let it sit overnight in the fridge. It’s a good sub for mayonnaise or even soft cream cheese.

  3. CapeCodBeachGirl

    I also love WTCS but I found a way to cut down on the fat and calories and still have that wonderful taste – like you, I could down a 3-lb. bucket no problem plus the fact that it’s now $7 per lb. is a killer.

    I roast 2 chicken bone-in breasts (spray with a little olive oil, S&P) at 375 for about 45 minutes until golden brown. Cool and remove skin and pull meat from the bones and shred by hand.

    Chop a stalk of celery and 1/4 of a large vidalia onion. Mix the shredded chicken, celery and onion in with a 1-lb. container of Willow Tree chicken salad and voila! all the yummy taste with a lot less fat per serving.

    I eat in in a oat/soy pocket (60 cals) and lots of lettuce and even more onion. Perfect and I’ve lost 12 lbs in the past 2 months eating this for lunch. Try it – you’ll like it!

    CapeCodBeach Girl.

  4. Wow, these are both great suggestions – I’ve put veggies, etc. in WTCS but never offset it with additional shredded chicken, that’s a great alternative! Thanks!

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  6. That post above has WT’s recipe – thanks, Chuck!

  7. Lisa

    You just can’t replace Willow Tree-its like trying to find Liguica or Coffe Syrup-All you can do is enjoy the sinful treats in moderation & ENJOY-Buy the combo pack of smaller sized WTCS and ration. Don’t deprive yourself!

  8. Jane

    I live about 2 miles from Willow Tree Farms Retail store, have always enjoyed this family favorite salad. It is available in all the markets in the area and also all the sandwich shops. I know the label says chopped celery and chopped onion, but I defy you to find a piece of celery, if its there its chopped with a very fine blade. So if you want to use the posted recipe to duplicate this delicious salad, put the celery and onion through the blender on fine.

  9. ~M

    I make a similar salad with chicken, granny smiths, celery, walnuts, and a bit of red onion, but instead of mayo, mustard, and yogurt, I use balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and sometimes a splash of pomegranate molasses. It’s SO good! Sprinkle with dried cranberries to serve!

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  11. crimson

    god i love this stuff… its funny reading this, i spent all summer of 09 on the cape working at stop and shop, and the one thing i did to brake the rules there was stuffing a bucket of willow tree and miss marking it…. i know i know, you shouldn’t screw with work; but when your working a deli everyday, and thous cape cod retirees keep asking for the cut to be thinner… you have to treat yourself and i did

    a really good quick CS i like and make often is made with deli meats. i like to buy chicken at the deli for my sandwiches over turkey i just like the flavor and texture better, if your up for buying some cuts, and you see a chicken on sale grab it, i like all the flavors but get what you like, i use about a half pound add mayo to your liking, some brown sugar a nice pinch of celery salt & garlic salt, and there you have it, want to go all out cut up a little onion.. deli meat is good because it brakes up with a spoon on its own and its so moist

    FYI. it cant get any thinner… any thinner and im shaving it….

  12. you guys gotta try this one….

    2 Servings

    1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar
    3/4 lime
    2 cups green papaya, shredded
    6 green beans
    1 clove garlic
    1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
    1 tablespoon dried shrimp
    2 chili peppers
    5 cherry tomatoes
    2 tablespoons peanuts, toasted

    First shred the papaya with a grater or food processor. Next, crush garlic, tomatoes, green beans. Set them aside in a large bowl. Add dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar to the bowl. Add green papaya and mix well. Serve with sticky rice and a sliver of cabbage, green beans and Thai basil.

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