Recipe Review

My Honest Review of Southern Living’s Classic, No-Frills Chicken Salad

published May 5, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

When it came time to choose contenders for our chicken salad recipe showdown, I started by searching for a Southern recipe — some of the earliest-known American chicken salad recipes are rooted in Southern cuisine. I quickly landed on a savory version from Southern Living, which is very no-frills as written but offers several suggestions for how to liven it up.

What attracted me most to this recipe was the cooking method of the chicken. It’s the only recipe of the four I tested that has you poach the chicken in broth rather than water. It also only cooks for 15 minutes, after which point it cools in the liquid off the heat. I also appreciated the simplicity of this recipe and was curious to see how it tasted in comparison to the others, which all included more mix-ins.

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

How to Make Southern Living’s Homemade Chicken Salad

You’ll begin by placing bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts in a large Dutch oven along with low-sodium chicken broth and thyme sprigs. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160°F. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to cool to room temperature in the cooking liquid for about 45 minutes to one hour.

Transfer the chicken from the pot to a work surface and remove the skin and bones. Shred the meat, then set it aside while you make the dressing, which consists of chopped celery, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. Add the chicken and mix until well-coated, then refrigerate, covered, until chilled.

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

My Honest Review of Southern Living’s Chicken Salad

This recipe, as written, was just okay. The poaching method is extremely smart — par-cooking the chicken breasts in broth and then letting them continue to poach off the heat made for a flavorful end product with a tender yet toothsome texture (the best texture, in fact, of the four recipes I tried). But when it comes to the chicken salad itself, it’s just too bare bones. There’s not much here besides celery and chicken, which made it pretty bland.

I’m not docking too many points, though, because the recipe suggests several optional add-ins in the headnotes, which I think would significantly improve this recipe.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You Make Southern Living’s Chicken Salad, a Few Tips

  • Season the poaching liquid, and add more aromatics. Adding some salt to the poaching liquid would enhance the chicken flavor even more, as would a few extra aromatics; shallot, garlic, peppercorns, or a bay leaf would all be welcome.
  • Add some extra ingredients to the chicken salad. Think grapes, nuts, chopped fresh fennel, fresh herbs, vadouvan — whatever your heart desires!

Rating: 7/10

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