Recipe: Creamy Chicken Salad with Parsley Walnut Pesto & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

published Apr 11, 2013
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(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

You can never have too many chicken salad recipes in your arsenal, especially with engagement party and bridal shower season upon us — it’s the quintessential dish for casual entertaining. I guarantee this version, with its delicious parsley walnut pesto, will be your favorite for years to come.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I decided to create a solid pesto recipe for the base, but I also wanted to switch things up a bit. The world doesn’t need another basil-pine nut pesto, at least from me anyway, so instead I subbed in parsley and walnuts — two much more budget-friendly ingredients that are always easy to find. I folded in sun-dried tomatoes to add a pop of color and a hint of mayonnaise to bring a certain creaminess. All together they take this pesto to another dimension, y’all!

When it came to the chicken breasts, I took some extra steps to help them reach poached perfection. Using aromatics, herbs, and white wine helped boost their overall flavor, and finishing off the heat helped the breasts stay moist and juicy. And while usually I prefer shredded meat for my chicken salads, this time I went with cubes to really show off the bright color and bold taste of the pesto. 

In the end, all of the ingredients came together to create a truly sublime chicken salad. The resulting recipe is delicious enough for any spring or summer party, but easy enough for a casual weekend lunch at home, two qualities that make it ideal for entertaining!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Chicken Salad with Parsley Walnut Pesto

Serves 4-6 (can easily be doubled or tripled)

This chicken salad is good served buffet-style at room temperature, but it would be equally good tucked in mini pita or lettuce wraps, or piled in small phyllo cups or tart shells. The pesto itself would be great tossed with pasta or smeared on crostini with goat cheese or mozzarella.

For the chicken: 
2 1/2 – 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 breasts)
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
Handful of flat-leaf parsley (leaves and stems)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto:
2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 heaping tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:  
Toasted, chopped walnuts
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Grated Parmesan

For the chicken, place the breasts in a large saucepan or braising dish and fill with enough water (or chicken stock) to cover by about an inch. Add the garlic, shallots, wine, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and cover. Let stand about 15-20 minutes, until the chicken reads 160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove the chicken from the pan and tent with foil (the chicken will finish cooking as it sits). Set the chicken aside until cool enough to handle; slice into bite-sized cubes.

While the chicken is poaching, make the pesto. Combine the parsley, garlic, walnuts, and oil into the bowl of a food processor or heavy-duty blender and process until smooth. And the Parmesan and pulse to incorporate.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Add cubed chicken to the bowl containing the pesto and gently toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper. Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors marry. Bring to room temperature for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. Toss with walnuts and garnish with tomatoes and a generous handful of Parmesan.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you want to substitute leftover or store bought chicken, you will need 4 cups cubed chicken for the recipe above.
  • If using store-bought pesto, combine 1 cup pesto with mayonnaise and sun-dried tomatoes; season with salt and pepper to taste.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(Images: Nealey Dozier)