Recipe Review

Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Contessa Is Classic, Creamy, and Seriously Good

published May 6, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Ina Garten, our quarantine queen, has returned to the celebrity recipe showdown battlefield with her hugely popular Chicken Salad Contessa. The recipe has 4.5 stars and many rave reviews on FoodNetwork.com, and I can’t say I’m surprised — Ina’s chicken salad was one of her bestselling prepared foods at Barefoot Contessa, her beloved Hamptons gourmet food store.

As I read through the recipe, a few things immediately caught my eye. Out of the four chicken salad recipes I tested, hers was the only one that has you roast the chicken in the oven (the other recipes called for boiling or poaching). She also calls for two types of nuts — pecans and walnuts — but I was only able to source walnuts, so I used those in place of the pecans. Lastly, she instructs you to chop the chicken into a 3/4-inch dice. Between the un-chopped nut pieces and the large pieces of chicken, it seemed like this chicken salad might be difficult to eat. Here’s what happened when I gave it a go.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make the Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Contessa

You’ll begin by generously seasoning bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts with salt and pepper. You then roast them at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Once cool, remove the bones and skin, then cut the meat into 3/4-inch pieces.

You’ll then toast pecans and walnuts and set aside to cool. Make the dressing by mixing together good mayonnaise, sour cream, salt, black pepper, and chopped tarragon. Combine the chicken, toasted nuts, halved grapes, and mayo dressing and stir well to combine. Garnish with more tarragon and serve on lettuce leaves.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Contessa

Of the four chicken salad recipes I tested for this showdown, Ina’s was the only one that had you season and roast the chicken. That small seasoning step had a huge impact — it made for a deeply flavorful chicken salad, and the chicken itself was fantastic.

My original trepidation about the chunks of chicken and walnuts being too big turned out to be inconsequential. The size of the salad pieces didn’t bother me one bit. I also didn’t miss the pecans, but I could see how they would be a nice addition.

Using sour cream in addition to the mayo also added a really nice creaminess to the salad. In fact, this dish had all the elements that I love in chicken salad: savory, crunchy, creamy, and sweet. I appreciated how so few ingredients made for a really delicious chicken salad. You really can’t go wrong with this recipe.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad, a Few Tips

  • Try some different add-ins. Bring this salad to new dimensions with the addition of different herbs and seasonings.
  • Try a different cooking method. Although I loved the flavor of the chicken, I’d like to try it with the Southern Living poaching method, which yielded the most tender chicken.
  • Try it with a smaller dice. If you like a bit of everything on each forkful, you may want to chop all the ingredients into smaller pieces.

Rating 9/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn