JOPLIN, Mo. —
Fran Spencer remembers, as a child, arriving at her Alba home after school, or after a long day outside in the summer sun, what it was like to tuck into some of her mother's homemade chicken salad. The cool, crisp salad made a perfect sandwich, she said.
So, more than 40 years later when she returned to the Joplin area and opened up a restaurant, she knew her mother's recipe would be a hit.
"I felt like our menu needed something extra, so I called Mom and got the recipe," said Spencer, owner of Cooper's Eatery and Drinkery, at 1505 S. Madison in Webb City. "Now it's our No. 1 seller."
Chicken salad is an easy-to-prepare dish perfect for summer lunches. It's flexible: It can be served on bread as a sandwich or on a bed of greens as a salad. It's nutritious: Filled with eggs, chicken and vegetables such as celery or onions, it offers filling protein without weighing the stomach down. And it's cool: Rarely is a chicken salad warm. Spencer's take is a tad warmer than most, however. The chicken salad sandwich she serves at Cooper's comes on a toasted Kaiser roll and stars hand-pulled, smoked chicken.
"It's pretty basic and old-fashioned," Spencer said. "Because we smoke the chicken, we hand pull it. Because it's cold, we serve it on a toasted Kaiser roll."
The staple ingredients of most chicken salads are chicken, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and crunchy vegetables. But different varieties feature plenty of creativity:
- A Mediterranean version features capers, Kalamata olives and couscous.
- Some recipes call for curry or peppers, giving the salad a spicy kick.
- Fruit such as apples and grapes are stars in many recipes.