When I sat down to write about this chicken salad, I planned to start out by telling you about the first time I had it.
Which was, of course, when Miss Beccaboo was a baby and me and my mom and my grandma and my aunt and my cousin (etc.) went to visit my (new-to-me) mother’s cousins. The three talkative, boisterous sisters rustled us up a fancy luncheon that included three times as many plates as needed (you know, a plate to hold the plate to hold the plate that holds the food) and this chicken salad. That’s the first time I ate this salad. I remember begging the recipe.
But come to think of it, wasn’t the chicken salad at my college graduation, too? That afternoon (Mr. Handsome and I had only seven months of marriage under our belts and no little babies in sight) my parents arrived with a boatload of food to serve the gazillion guests crammed into our three-room apartment. There were baked beans and potato salad and fruit, and—yes, I’m sure of it—that chicken salad.
So from which of the two occasions does this salad originate? Clearly, I’m all a-muddle. Could it be that I so love chicken salad that I’ve inserted it into any and all of my party memories?
It was at my dad’s surprise 50th birthday party. I know this because I helped serve the food, some of which we hid in the washing machine because we didn’t want Dad to look in the fridge and wonder why we needed five heads of lettuce and all those grapes. (Not that he would’ve ever noticed because he’s clueless like that, but we played it safe anyway.) I have a clear memory of a huge platter mounded high with chicken salad, the bowl of crunchy almonds sitting pretty alongside. There was also a song that my brothers sang, a song about an old man’s request for his remains to get used to fertilize the tomatoes, but when I emailed my brother to ask him for the words, he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.
Give me a break. As if I could make something like that up?
There was chicken salad, though. Of that I am positive.
Last weekend there was chicken salad in my house and it wasn’t even party time. Unless you count getting well enough to boil two chickens and chop grapes party-worthy. Which, considering how miserable I had been, I do.
It was just me in my kitchen with a wicked hankering for chicken salad, slicing and stirring to beat the setting sun (for pictures, you know), and then standing at the counter, fork in hand, scarfing down the deliciousness as fast as I could, groaning and moaning and uttering squeaky squealy exclamations of joy. It was a regular old weekend evening, but I sure whooped it up good.
Thus proving my point. Which is that chicken salad makes any occasion a party.
And that, my dears, is a fact worth remembering.
This salad is meant to stand on its own and not as the filling for a sandwich. We sometimes eat it with crackers and cheese even though they’re totally unnecessary and usually end up detracting from the simple chickeny joy.
Any old chutney will do. Usually I buy a standard mango chutney, but this time I used a pear ginger chutney that a friend gave me. The ginger was STRONG—I worried that it would overpower the other ingredients, but it didn’t. Bottom line? It really is true that any chutney will do.
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup mayo
½ cup sour cream
1/4 cup chutney
1/4 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups cubed chicken
2 cups red grape halves
½ cup toasted almonds
Combine the first six ingredients (down through the salt). Add the chicken and grapes and toss to coat. Add the almonds last minute (or let people do it themselves) as they lose their lovely crunch if allowed to mingle with the sauce for any length of time.
Yield: about 6 main dish servings or 12 little side servings (though no one ever takes just a little serving of this salad)