Picnic Ready: Healthy Chicken Salad & Easy Roast Chicken

Healthy Chicken Salad, perfect for sandwiching (or not)


It’s April. The grass is finally green, the trees are beginning to bud, the flowers have started to bloom, and my tired winter eyes have at last adjusted to the bright, glorious sunlight. Days like these – the perfect kind – are few and far between here, so I do my best to soak them up while they last.

I gather that for most people, chicken salad is more of a summertime meal, meant for sun-scorched backyard potlucks and refreshing make-ahead lunches… but when I think of chicken salad, the first thing that comes to mind is picnicking.

A tupperware full of chicken salad, a crusty loaf of bread, some cheese and apples, and a blanket. Preferably checkered. This was all I could think of while I made this sandwich.

Did I mention days like these are few and far between? Even as I write this, snow is beginning to fall. Yes, snow. Falling on my finally green grass, falling on my daffodils, and falling on my hopes and dreams of picnicking. Welcome to Michigan weather.

I won’t let that stop me from enjoying it, though.

Healthy Chicken Salad, Made Just The Way You Like It

Do you ever get the feeling that two slices of bread just aren’t enough to hold all the deliciousness you want them to? Thank goodness for forks. This salad is just as good out of a bowl, or in a wrap, as it is on a sandwich – feel free to serve it up however you prefer.

There are a million and one ways to personalize this salad, so I’ve included a few variations in the recipe below. Not a fan of walnuts? Swap them out for pecans, almonds, cashews, or  sunflower seeds. Grapes aren’t your thing? Try dried cranberries, cherries, or mandarin oranges instead. Almost every ingredient in this recipe can be traded in for something you prefer, or have on hand, making this salad easy to customize and play with each and every time you make it. The recipe below is my go-to combination, but you can use it as a suggestion for making it any way you like.

When I make this chicken salad, I like to roast my chicken whole. Not only is it cheaper that way, but I get to use the white meat for the salad, the dark meat for whatever else, and the bones and extras get thrown into a pot to make homemade chicken stock, so nothing goes to waste. Of course, you can cook your chicken however you like, or, if you’re making this in the heat of the summer and don’t feel like cooking, go ahead and use a store-bought rotisserie chicken instead. Whatever works for you.

Simple Oven Roasted Chicken
Basic Roast Chicken

Recipe Notes: Roasting a chicken can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but it doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. The following is a very simple, no-truss recipe (see what I did there?). There’s no brining or planning ahead required, and the results are moist and delicious every time. If you want to get fancy, feel free to throw some quartered onions, cubed potatoes, chopped carrots, or halved lemons into the roasting pan, or you can stuff some onions or lemons inside the cavity of the bird along with some fresh herbs for more flavor.

Simple Oven Roasted Chicken

4-5 lb. roasting chicken, whole
2 TBSP olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter
1-2 TBSP kosher salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
Paprika or other herbs/spices – optional
Onions, potatoes, carrots, lemons, etc. – optional

1. Get your oven preheating to 450f.
2. Rinse the bird thoroughly under cool water, inside and out. If your chicken came with giblets, remove them and set them aside for making stock.
3. Pat the bird thoroughly dry with paper towels, inside and out. Try to get as much moisture off as possible. The dryer the bird, the crisper the skin will be. While the oven is preheating, let the bird rest at room temperature so it can warm up a little.
4. Pour your salt, pepper, and any other spices you choose into a small bowl (this way you can grab them later without contaminating everything with chicken-y hands). Get your oil ready as well, and cut up any onions, potatoes, etc. you’d like to use.
5. Give the chicken a final pat-down with a paper towel and place it in a baking dish or roasting pan breast-side up. Drizzle it front and back with oil, and rub it all around to make sure everything is evenly coated. Take a palm full of your seasoning mixture and rub it around the inside cavity, then rub the remaining seasoning mixture evenly over the outside of the bird. If you have any onions, potatoes, carrots, or other vegetables you’d like to roast, arrange them around the sides of the baking pan. You can also stuff a wedge of onion, lemon, or fresh herbs into the cavity of the bird for more flavor, if you like.
6. Place on the center rack of your pre-heated oven, and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350f., and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the dark meat registers at least 170f. on a meat thermometer. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting in to.
7. For the chicken salad recipe below, cut or shred the chicken breasts (white meat) into a bowl and place in the fridge until chilled.

Picnic Ready Chicken Salad
Picnic Ready!

Recipe Notes: This chicken salad is infinitely adaptable to your tastes. Here are some ideas for customizing it: Changing the combination of nuts and fruit is an easy way to personalize this salad – try chopped apples and walnuts, dried cranberries and pecans, almonds and mandarin oranges, or sunflower seeds and raisins. If you prefer your chicken salad without fruit or nuts, try adding a bunch of fresh veggies like cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and onion. You can also swap the fresh tarragon for any other herb, or combination of herbs, you like. Basil is nice, as well as dill, fennel, oregano, rosemary, and sage. You could even swap the herbs for a spoonful of pesto, which would add a nice pop of color and flavor!

Healthy Chicken Salad
Serves four

2 medium chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or cubed
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 large apple, chopped (red or green apple, use what you like)
3/4-1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped (or pecans, or other nuts or seeds)
1 cup grapes, halved (or dried cranberries, cherries, or other fruit)
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt*
1/4 cup mayonnaise*
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar (or tarragon vinegar, or white wine vinegar)
1 TBSP fresh tarragon, chopped (or basil, oregano, rosemary, or other herb)
Pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.

*I like to use a combination of mayo and yogurt to make this classic salad a little lighter. Feel free to use whatever you like.

1. Shred or cube the chicken and place it in a bowl. Add the chopped celery, apple, and toasted walnuts.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, tarragon, and a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Add the dressing to the chicken mixture, and stir to combine.
3. Mix in the halved grapes last, to keep them from getting bruised. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If the mixture is a little dry, add a bit more yogurt or mayonnaise.
4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Salad is best after a couple of hours, so the flavors have had a chance to mingle. Serve as is, in a wrap, on a sandwich, or however you like. You could even double the dressing and mix in some cooked penne for a pasta salad. I like mine simply with fresh lettuce and a bit of avocado. Enjoy!

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9 Responses to Picnic Ready: Healthy Chicken Salad & Easy Roast Chicken

  1. AteGood April 25, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    great photos, dish looks amazing!

  2. Justine Sulia April 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Yum! I love a new chicken salad recipe. I never thought of using apples either! What a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

    • Willow April 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

      You’re welcome – I love apples in my chicken salad! Anything to add a little more crunch. :)

  3. Medeja April 26, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    I already know from the ingredient list that I would love this salad!

    • Willow April 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

      Heheh, we have very similar taste, then!

  4. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes April 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    I love how you set your picnic scene, now I want to go for a picnic! Spring is finally here, however it is not unheard of to have snow in New England during the month of May- keeping my fingers crossed that spring is here to stay!


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