Recipe Review

I Tried Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad and It Was So Good, It’s Now in My Lunch Rotation

published Jun 18, 2023
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Dolly Parton's Pecan Chicken Salad on a plate
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

With an origin dating back to 1863, one of the first amalgamations of chicken salad was dreamed up by Liam Gray, owner of Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island. His version combined leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes, and was so popular that eventually the meat market would pivot into a delicatessen. With influence like that, it’s no wonder chicken salad is still a staple in American cuisine, garnering the respect of countless chefs and celebrities alike, and somehow, never seeming to get old. 

While there are plenty of variations of chicken salad to try out, Dolly Parton — someone whose tastes are taken very seriously around here — happens to have a delicious chicken salad recipe that uses only a few ingredients, but is an absolute powerhouse. And if anyone knows the struggle of working 9 to 5 and needing an easy, yet delicious meal that can be thrown together in minutes, it’s the Queen of Country herself. So, I decided to pour myself a little cup of ambition and see what all the fuss was about with Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad. And let me tell you, I was far from disappointed. 

Get the recipe: Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad

Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

How to Make Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad

Start by poaching your chicken in boiling water until it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F, about 10 to 12 minutes. While the chicken cools, dice your celery stalks and one small onion before adding to a large mixing bowl. Next, dice the chicken into small cubes and add to the bowl along with pecan halves, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard. Mix everything well with a spatula.

Then using two forks, shred the chicken ensuring that you use your own discretion for how thin you want it to be. Finally, season with salt and pepper, then serve on a plate with a bed of watercress as the base.  

Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

My Honest Opinion of Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad

Growing up, I was always a ride-or-die kid when it came to mayonnaise. Regrettably, I would put mayonnaise on everything, but somewhere along the line, I slowly lost my taste for it. Because of that, I was less likely to seek out chicken salad over the years — even if it was readily available to me. It was almost to a point where I would just think that I didn’t like it anymore. Being that it’s been quite a while since I had even a bite of chicken salad, I was both excited to try Dolly’s recipe and nervous that I was making something that I would otherwise not want to finish. But boy was I wrong, because with the first bite, I was instantly met with a feeling of nostalgia and couldn’t help but finish my serving. 

The only ingredient I could do without, however, was the pecans — but even that was not a deal-breaker, and I found myself eating them anyway because each bite was just that dang tasty. Though I don’t believe Dolly’s chicken salad will make me the master mayonnaise connoisseur I once was when growing up, it did remind me that I love chicken salad. And I will most certainly be adding this back into my cooking rotation. 

Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

3 Tips for Making Dolly Parton’s Pecan Chicken Salad

  1. Don’t skip the shredding. The more you’re able to shred your chicken, the better the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard will incorporate into every crevice, leaving no dry bite in sight. 
  2. No nuts, no problem. If you have a nut allergy, or just aren’t a fan of them in general, remove the pecans from the equation and the recipe will still be just as amazing. In my opinion, it’s the other ingredients that really tie this chicken salad together; the pecans are just a bonus. 
  3. Adjust, taste, and repeat. While Dolly’s instructions are a fantastic guideline to follow, if you find the recipe lacking in any way, try adjusting the ingredient amounts until you like what you taste. For example, add more Dijon mustard, mix, taste, then repeat if needed.