Whether you are married or buried in The South, you will have chicken salad. You may be a newly born baby down in Dixieland, and your first meal will most likely be a Dixieland Delight of chicken salad – second to pimento cheese or barbeque. I say all this in jest – “jest” saying, y’all, we eat a lot of chicken salad!
This Southern staple is apropos for a wedding, a shower, a luncheon, a wake, a church supper or a hunt club picnic. It is a mandatory dish at garden club. You can be quite elegant with your presentation, and remove the crust (Mimi always said that if you cut the crust off, it was fancy), or you may scoop it onto a lettuce leaf. Or, you may dip Ritz crackers into the styrofoam cup of chicken salad as you leave the drive-thru window at Georgia Bobs – chicken salad can be casual, everyday or highbrow, high-end… diner’s choice.
Chipped, chopped, shredded or chunky – chicken salad is much the same as Southern barbeque in its array of forms. “Mother always chipped hers so fine that it was almost fluffy…” I’ve heard many a time. “Uncle Earl just chopped his…” you may have witnessed this. MawMaw, Mema, Mimi and Mama all have their methods and, like brands of mayonnaise, their posterity follow suit in their taste and preference. Then there is the entire debate about celery. As for me and my house, the finer chopped the better – if added at all.
We are a seasonally accoutrement style chicken salad family. Pecans are generally a basic, year round mainstay to my recipes though a fall/winter crop, yet one may find walnuts, cashews or even almonds in different styles of the dish. As for the seasonal flair, apples may be found in the fall or perhaps the nuts of choice are seasoned with rosemary or sage. Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries find their way into summer recipes. Along with other fruits – peaches in particular.
Enter my Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad from A Time to Cook. It’s pretty much my basic chicken salad recipe with the addition of peaches and pecans. I even like to garnish with a twist of basil for extra scent and flavor texture. But rather than just mix the peaches and pecans into the salad, I like to heavily sprinkle them on top. No particular reason for this fashion or maybe so I can see the wedges of sweet peaches awaiting to be devoured.
Chicken salad, pimento cheese and poundcake are to me the building blocks of Southern culinary pyramid. Master them and you can always have something to snack on or feed the herd. One may then build upon these cornerstones seasonally or as your taste buds dictate. For this Farmer, summertime is peaches on and in everything – chicken salad notwithstanding! Hope y’all enjoy!
Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad
This recipe can easily be doubled. Use peaches or apples that are in season and a good-quality mayonnaise – for Southerners, it’s what your mama uses. Grapes make a nice garnish as well.
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecan halves
6-8 peaches or 6 apples
lemon juice, optional
½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
2 cups cooked chicken, chipped or diced
6-8 sandwich rolls, or bread
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and toss pecans in melted butter. If using salted butter, add only a light sprinkling of salt. Toast pecans on the stove until they began to brown, tossing constantly so they don’t burn. Or transfer buttered and salted pecans to a baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree F oven for just a minute or two, watching carefully. If you can smell them, you may have let them go too far! Remove from heat and set aside.
Peel, pit and chip peaches or core and chop apples. If need be, squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. The mayo helps with this too.
Combine the chicken, peaches or apples, and pecans in a bowl and then bring it all together with the mayo. Mix well and serve.
Farmer’s Note on Poaching or Sautéing Chicken: Cook 3 to 4 skinless boneless breasts in a quick stock with onions, celery, carrots, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and chicken bouillon. Or just brown them in butter or oil with salt and pepper. Or, for fine garden flavor, roast the chicken with thyme or your favorite herb. When the chicken has cooled, chip or chop the bird.