Our food editor says to save those legs and thighs for something else.

 

Like many foods beloved throughout the South, chicken salad—and what you put in it—is a personal thing. My go-to recipe? Chopped cooked chicken breasts, a little minced celery, just enough mayonnaise to coat everything evenly (but not enough to make it gloppy), salt, and black pepper.

The standard chicken salad recipe in my house might seem plain, but I usually use it as a starting point for more interesting variations. Sometimes I’ll toss in diced radishes and snap peas in the spring. Summer might mean a handful of chopped soft herbs like basil, parsley, and tarragon. In the fall, I might add diced apple and chopped pecans. Winter chicken salads might have a bit of citrus zest stirred into the mayonnaise for brightness.

I’ve written about this before, but I prefer using white meat in chicken salad because it’s not as flavorful as dark meat. That might sound crazy—who wouldn’t want more flavor?—but I look at chicken salad as a blank canvas for other ingredients. Because chicken salad is served chilled, dark meat has a tendency to overpower everything else in the dish. I also think cooked chicken breasts have a better texture when chilled—in my experience, dark meat turns a bit ropy or chewy when served cold.

White meat isn’t best for every chicken recipe, though. When I’m making a main dish with chicken, I’ll almost always choose legs and thighs over breasts. Whether roasted or fried, dark meat cooks up rich, tender, and succulent. And let’s not forget the crisp, buttery skin, which is really the best part—and something that goes completely to waste when you’re making chicken salad.

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