We are dedicated mayonnaise geeks here in the Tasting Table Test Kitchen (stay tuned for our ultimate homemade-mayo recipe coming in July). But you won’t find mayonnaise in our chicken salad. Instead of relying on the traditional sandwich lubricant, we poach chicken in broth and then use olive oil to moisten the bird. A tweak of fresh thyme, garlic, shallots and lemon yields chicken with tender shards of lean white meat, and toasted walnuts, tarragon and quartered grapes shatter the familiar salad’s deli-case associations. Bonus: Save the chicken poaching broth to use in soup, a rice dish or, better still, an already-flavored brew for even more poached chicken.
Poached-Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Grapes
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: Serves 4
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Two 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
10 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup water
¾ cup walnut halves
Juice of 1 lemon (reserved from the lemon halves added to the poaching broth)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup seedless red grapes, quartered
2 celery stalks--trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced on a bias
3 scallions, white and light green part only, thinly sliced
Flatbread crisps, toasted buns or sandwich bread or large lettuce leaves for serving
1. Poach the chicken: Set the chicken on a plate and season with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the olive oil, shallot and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the shallot is translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, then pour in the chicken broth and water.
2. Juice the lemon and set the lemon juice aside for the vinaigrette. Add the juiced lemon halves to the saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer, then add the chicken breasts and reduce the heat to low. Gently cook the chicken in the broth until it registers 160° on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and cool the chicken in the broth for 10 minutes, then remove the chicken breasts from the broth and set on a paper-towel-lined plate to cool for 10 minutes. When the chicken breasts are cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred them into shards. Set aside.
3. Make the salad: Preheat the oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, place the walnuts and bake them until fragrant and toasted, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the walnuts to a cutting board. Once cool, roughly chop and set aside. (If serving the chicken salad on buns, place the buns on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven.)
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, tarragon and salt together. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until all of the olive oil is added and the vinaigrette is thick and creamy. Add the pulled chicken to the bowl along with the walnuts, grapes, celery and scallions. Gently toss to coat and serve on flatbread crisps, buns or wrapped in lettuce leaves.