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.
Spencer said she has experimented with a variety of fruits and nuts. "I've used craisins, pecans and raspberry mayonnaise before," Spencer said. "That goes great over a bed of mixed organic greens."
The smoked chicken in the dish at Cooper's sets it apart, and is part of the reason the restaurant sells so many chicken salad sandwiches, Spencer said. It is highlighted with just a bit of mustard and sweet pickle relish to provide the right amount of tang.
Grandma's chicken salad
2 smoked whole chickens
8 ounces sweet pickle relish
4 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
12 ounces mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Begin by hand pulling the meat from the two chickens. Using your hands, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl (gloves may be worn), then chill. Serve with lettuce and tomato or on a preferred bread. Though the instructions are simple, Spencer has discovered some secrets for great salad:
- Use both light and dark chicken meat. Using only white meat gets to be too dry.
- The reason that the meat is hand pulled is for good texture, Spencer said. "You don't want it like tuna salad," Spencer said. "You don't want to overwork it into a mush. You want some heartiness to it."
- If smoking your own chickens isn't possible, rotisserie chickens work very well.
- Use all fresh ingredients, especially the vegetables. The fresh veggies give the dish lively crunch and texture, she said.
Chicken salad with olive vinaigrette
1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 (7-ounce) packages 98-percent fat-free chicken breast in water
Cook couscous according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Combine olives and next 7 ingredients (olives through garlic) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add couscous to olive mixture; toss gently to coat. Stir in chicken just before serving.
Source: Cooking Light
Curried chicken salad
1 cup walnut halves
4 cups cooked chicken (about 12 ounces), diced
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved crosswise
1 large celery rib, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 radicchio cups
4 cups mixed baby greens (about 3 ounces)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread walnuts on a shallow baking sheet and roast in oven until toasted, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
Coarsely chop walnuts and transfer 3/4 cup of them to a bowl with chicken, grapes and celery; toss. In a small bowl, whisk together scallions, mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, curry powder and pepper. Scrape mixture over chicken mixture and toss well.
To serve, arrange a radicchio cup in center of a plate. Fill radicchio with chicken salad. Arrange greens around radicchio. Sprinkle remaining nuts on top of salad.
Source: All You