chicken salad sandwich

Chicken salad is the #1 thing I don’t order at restaurants.

And I think this makes perfect sense.

I mean, first of all, who wants chicken salad when you can get a tomato mozzarella panini or a sandwich with basil pesto or heck, a juicy burger made from locally sourced meat?

But second, and even more importantly, chicken salad is what you call a risky food. Trust me: bad chicken salad is bad. Like, rip-your-mouth-out bad. B-A-D bad. Three years ago, the last time I ordered it in a restaurant that I remember, I was up the whole night afterward, sick. Violently sick. And the next day, when I called the manager of said dining establishment to let him know, he didn’t believe me.

These are the chicken salad memories that haunt me when I look at restaurant menus. These are the lessons I have learned. Blame it on the mayonnaise that coats the salad (hiding all that lurks inside), blame it on poor recipes, blame it on me if you want to, I don’t mind, but listen: order chicken salad somewhere new, and you are a brave, brave soul. Braver than I am.

curried chicken salad

Now when I have this conversation with people as we’re dining, my eyes alight as I recount Restaurant Debacle 2007, they can start to get the wrong idea. They can take all my fury, all my passion, all my fear of restaurant chicken salad and think that extends to chicken salad period. Oh no, my friends. Not at all.

The truth is, every couple months, I still get a hankering for a homemade chicken salad, but not just any kind. I want the chicken salad where I choose each and every ingredient that goes inside, where instead of mayonnaise there’s a blend of yogurt and olive oil and lemon juice. I want the chicken salad that I’ll eat for days at a time.

chicken salad and crackers

For me, this is that chicken salad. The two keys are curry powder and red grapes, both of which you shouldn’t be stingy with. I eat it on crackers, on toasted cinnamon-raisin Ezekiel bread, on sourdough, straight out of the bowl with a big spoon. And the beauty of this chicken salad is you can make it yours simply by adapting it to have more or less of the things you like. Where I pack in the grapes, you may want more chicken. Where I heap in curry, you may leave it out. The important thing is when you make it in your own kitchen, you pick every part of it. And in my opinion, with chicken salad, that’s how it’s got to be.

Curried Chicken Salad (my way)
As I said above, this salad is super adaptable, and though I’m giving you my approximations, feel free to tweak to your liking. There are thousands of chicken salad variations out there: Some people like toasted almonds. Some people add diced apples. The important thing is to add what you like. This is what that means for me.

1 cup cooked chicken, roughly chopped (I like using leftover roasted or grilled)
3/4 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 stem of celery, washed and chopped
3 or 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt
A couple glugs of olive oil
Lots of lemon juice
2 or 3 teaspoons of curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

Put chicken through celery in a bowl and add yogurt and olive oil, stirring until well mixed. Squeeze plenty of lemon juice all over. Add curry powder and stir again. Salt and pepper to taste.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Jacqui

    i’ve been looking for a good curried chicken salad recipe lately, ever since i ate this one in california. grapes are key; avocados are a big bonus. :)

  2. Lisa

    mmm this sounds so good! i totally agree about ordering it in a restaurant (and NEVER do) mostly because it’s always just gloppy and gelatinous with gobs of mayo. I never thought of olive oil and yogurt but that sounds great i’m going to have to try it – good timing too because i’ve been craving chicken salad lately. (I usually make it like the one I posted way back last fall…from the chicken leftover from making chicken soup).

  3. Lisa

    oh but I wanted to ask you; don’t the grapes get soggy?

  4. Jenny

    mmm, chicken salad. I have to eat mine for days at a time, too (no problem) as Michael will have nothing to do with nuts + grapes together with meat. Crazy man.

  5. Lan

    i’m a fan of chicken salad, and knock on wood, i’ve never had a problem with restaurant versions, tho i rarely order it. (i think living in 3rd world countries for alot of my life has made my stomach quite strong…)
    one of my all time fave chicken salads had raisins and chunks of apples in it. my first roommate in college would make it and we’d have faux-picnics in our dorm room, putting them on crackers & pretending we were at the beach and not in the middle of southern va, freezing our butts off.
    here, there’s a place in the city that has a chicken salad with grapes, celery and BACON. it’s called a Bacon Whoopie and it’s divine.
    i adore the addition of curry and like you, i usually use yogurt in lieu of mayo.

  6. jarrelle

    I would have never thought of adding curry to my chicken salad but i will definitely try that next time around. and yes grapes are the best in it. sometimes i’ll shred some granny smith apple in mine! and i also never order it from a restaurant because they always put way too much mayo!

  7. TJ

    The first curried chicken salad I had was packed with currants. It had thinly sliced almonds too and it was so good, all of the flavor and texture. I will have to try this recipe, too.

  8. Maddie

    Count this among the normal American foods I’ve never eaten (I only had my first grilled cheese this weekend!). I think it was all the gloppy mayo holding me back, though…yogurt, oil, and lemon juice sound much more appetizing. Glad you found a version that will keep your stomach safe and happy!

  9. leslie

    i recently dealt with an unfortunate tuna salad situation when i ordered a tuna flatbread at a restaurant. my gourmet expectations and i expected slices of seared tuna, but what i received was mayonnaise-laden tuna salad. mayonnaise actually horrifies me, and i could taste nothing but, so this was a nearly inedible meal. disappointing! that being said, your recipe looks lovely. i subscribe to the yogurt+olive oil combination as well. works with egg salad too!

  10. Vicki

    First of all belated happy birthday greetings. I was on vacation last week in Minnisota and one of your favorite places, Minocqua, Wis. My aunt & uncle have lived in the north woods for years and this was my first visit. Loved it up there! Didn’t u write about a cafe up there for a class at DePaul? Recently I tried a chicken salad recipe from Self magazine. I liked it but my hubby did not. How long does chicken salad keep? I ended up eating it four days in a row b/c I didn’t want it to go bad but got tired of eating it after awhile.

  11. Tim

    This looks yum. I like the idea of yogurt instead of mayonnaise.

  12. Anne Zimmerman

    Oh, chicken salad is so scary to me. But this recipe, and another one I have squirreled away, just might convince me to make it. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, avocado slathered on toast is still my lunchtime desert-island food.

  13. Kim

    Oh, this looks just delicious. Absolutely scrumptious. Mmmmmm!

  14. Shannalee

    Jacqui, You just said the magic word. And it so happens I bought an avocado today at the store….!

    Lisa, Yeah, leftover chicken just begs to be chicken salad. : ) And oh my word, gelatinous is the perfect word to describe a bad one. Yuck. As far as the grapes, I’ve never had it leftover long enough to really see if the grapes get soggy, but we’re going three days strong so far!

    Jenny, More for you! : )

    Lan, Ha! Well I don’t know about bacon in it, but I am fascinated by what you said about your strong stomach. There’s definitely something to be said for being exposed to bacteria in order to build your immune system – I bet that does have a lot to do with your resilience!

    Jarrelle, You’ve got to try it!

    TJ, Mmmm, currants sound great!

    Maddie, You’re kidding! Three cheers for bringing grilled cheese into your life – that took me a while, too. Have you ever made one with a little honey or some apples inside too? Now that’s delicious.

    Leslie, Oh, I empathize completely! Now, egg salad… that’s something I still can’t get on board with. Maybe someday, especially if it were without mayo like this is!

    Vicki, Thanks and so glad you got to go to Minocqua! You’re right: I did write about it for one of our classes. It’s so nice in the summer! As far as this chicken salad, I have to be honest and say I don’t know. This recipe has made enough for me for about four days, eating a little each day, and then it’s gone. Just keep your eye on it, I think.

    Tim, Thanks! It gives the same overall look and texture but way better flavor.

    Anne, Oh, avocado on toast was my staple for like two weeks straight, and just hearing it mentioned again is making me want some now!

    Kim, Thank you! Hope you get to try it!

  15. Jess

    First of all, I love that you have a number one thing that you don’t order at restaurants. And second: This is a great post, Shannalee.

  16. MaryAnn

    I am thinking you are brave to eat chicken salad at all! Anytime I get sick on a food it’s, Adios! Hence, I have not had Cheerios, grapefruit, cottage cheese & corn in many a year…sad, isn’t it?
    Your recipe looks super yum & very inspiring! Wish I had some leftover chicken in my fridge…

  17. Whitney

    I wish I had this made for lunch!

  18. Angharad

    Curried chicken salad is where it’s at. I have no interest in the non-curried variety but my local sandwich shop does a fabulous version. Mmm curry powder.

  19. kickpleat

    I love chicken salad sandwiches but I’ve never ordered one in a restaurant. The one I make is very similar to yours….but I also add apple because apples are awesome in sandwiches.

  20. heather @ chiknpastry

    I LOVe chicken salad with red grapes. and i definitely agree about not ordering it at restaurants. unless of course, you are free for a couple of days and wanna risk it!

  21. Shannalee

    Jess, As always, you are so kind. Thank you!

    MaryAnn, Ha! Wait, you got sick on Cheerios? That’s terrible!

    Whitney, Make it for tomorrow’s!

    Angharad, I know! Once you’ve had the curried kind, it’s hard to go back.

    Kickpleat, I agree about apples in sandwiches, so I actually might try adding them to this sometime. Just peeled and diced, I imagine?

    Heather, NEVER again! Ha!

  22. Kasey

    I love the IDEA of chicken salad, but I tend to find it greasy and a little too heavy most times. I also hate mayo, so I’m glad to see it worked perfectly well with yogurt :)

  23. Shannalee

    Kasey, Yep, we are so on the same page. : )

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