Napa Valley Chicken Salad

Years ago my sister-in-law gave us a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook.  It was quite trendy for the times but has remained a staple in my collection along with its companion, The New Basics Cookbook.  I refer to it often for recipes like Ginger Candied Carrots, Linguine with Clams and Spicy Sesame Noodles but one of the best discoveries in this book was Tarragon Chicken Salad.  It is one of those recipes I have made many many times and have tweaked to make my own which I call Napa Valley Chicken Salad.  Granted the authors of this fine book are from New York but to me the addition of grapes, the toasting of the walnuts and the use of fresh herbs just screams California cuisine.  I love this salad for its  crunchy refreshing tastes and also because it is one of those things you can make from leftover chicken.  The original recipe gives instructions for cooking the chicken especially for the dish which I will pass on to you, but it is easily adaptable to leftover roasted, grilled,  or rotisserie chicken.  It can be eaten on its own, in a pita with garden lettuce, as a luncheon salad, or as a filling for a picnic sandwich. 

Recipe                                                              Makes 6 portions

Boneless whole chicken breasts, about 3 lbs., or equivalent of leftover chicken meat of any kind. 

*Note:  The original recipe called for boneless breasts but I like to cook chicken with the bone and skin on as it gives it more flavor.  A combo of thighs and breasts works well.  It is not difficult to remove the chicken from the bone after it is cooked and you can save the bones for stock.

1 c Creme Fraiche or heavy cream (for cooking, if not using leftover chicken)

1/2 c sour cream

1/2 c good quality mayonnaise or homemade

2 ribs celery, cut into a fine dice

1/2 c shelled walnuts or almonds, toasted and rough chopped (you could also use black walnuts, hickory nuts or cashews)

2T fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1T dried, crumbled)

Don’t like tarragon?  Try basil.

1c seedless red grapes, cut in half (preferably organic)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Arrange chicken breasts in a single layer on a large rimmed baking.  Spread evenly with creme fraiche or heavy cream and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until done.  Remove from oven and cool.  When cool, shred to bite sized pieces.  If using leftover chicken, remove meat from the bone and shred as above.
  2. Whisk sour cream and mayonnaise together in a small bowl and pour over the chicken.
  3. Add the celery, toasted nuts, tarragon and grapes.
  4. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste and toss well.
  5. Refrigerate, covered, for at least four hours to allow flavors to marry.  Will keep overnight.
  6. Taste and correct seasonings before serving.

*Note:  I toast nuts in a dry pan on top of the stove over medium heat.  They are ready when you begin to smell the aroma.  Immediately remove them from the pan onto a plate or they will continue to toast.  Allow to cool.  It may seem like nothing is happening but then they go fast so watch them carefully and resist the temptation to do laundry or walk outside while the heat is on.  Burnt nuts are trash!

Believe me when I say this recipe is a keeper. The crunch of the nuts and celery, the freshness of the grapes and tarragon (or basil) make this a hit time and again.   As I said I have been making it for many years and it has graced my table at potlucks, picnics, lunches and even brunch.  It is simple to assemble and dressy enough to be the main attraction, a side or a filling for a sandwich.  You decide how you want it to go down in your culinary rock star world.  Would love to hear how you served it!

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