Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thank Heavens For Chicken Salad

...and Chicken Soup!

Regular readers know of my family’s love affair, bordering on obsession, with our Chicken Salad. (I first mentioned it here and you can see a photo here.) My mother’s mother, Gagee, first made the simple salad and it was an immediate hit. It was better than any other chicken salad that any other Grandma/Nana/Bubbe had ever or would ever make. Sorry. I’m sure your family recipe is delicious. But we can brook no arguments here on the subject of the sacred Chicken Salad as first prepared by my Gagee. ‘K?

I have to say that the chicken soup in which the chicken was simmered before being transformed into Chicken Salad, was truly secondary, approaching irrelevant; a mere vehicle necessary to achieve greatness; a simple by-product. But no more. You see I married a nice Jewish boy to whom chicken soup was sacred and had it’s own complicated family provenance and traditions. To maintain a happy marriage, I needed to learn to make chicken soup like Mama used to make!

It took me quite a while. There was even a tearful night when Chuck informed me the vegetable were far too small. (I blame PMS and really don’t want to discuss it any further.) But I finally achieved a Chicken Soup that Chuck loves and Chicken Salad which honors, but can never rival, my mother's and grandmother’s.

At the risk of being struck by lightning, I’m about to reveal these sacred family recipes. There are no amounts (You knew that was coming didn’t you?) but here are the essentials:

Lee’s Chicken Soup (With an Eye to Making Chicken Salad)

Split Chicken breasts, skin on, with bones
Olive Oil
Onions diced fine
Garlic crushed
Celery diced - not too fine, not too chunky
Carrots diced - not too fine, not too chunky
Parsnip diced - not too fine, not too chunky
Chicken Broth - the best canned or box pack you can find
Vegetable Broth - the best canned or box pack you can find
(I’d say about three Chicken to one Vegetable. Using the canned/boxed stock makes for a really deep, rich soup.)
Bell’s Seasoning

Saute the onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Add a small amount of sherry and let it cook down slightly. Add the broths and the vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the chicken breasts. Place on a back burner over a low flame to maintain a truly gentle simmer.

Much later (How’s that for precise?) remove the chicken breasts to a large bowl. Check the soup for any stray bones that have fallen away from the chicken and remove them. Taste the soup and add salt, pepper and a dash of Bell’s Seasoning to taste.

Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and discard. Remove the big pieces of meat from the bones and set aside. Then very carefully remove all the tiny edible bits of chicken from the bones. Add those bits back into the soup.

Lee’s Chicken Salad by way of Dorothy/Mom and Marion/Gagee

Chicken Breast - White Meat Only
Celery diced very, very fine
Cain’s Mayonnaise
Onion Powder

This is not a chunky, trendy, bistro/cafe chicken salad with curry powder, raisins and walnuts. This is comfort food, plain and simple, but of the highest order.

Using the prime pieces of white breast meat, slice it with the grain into big pieces. Then turn the meat sideways and slice very finely across the grain. In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the celery.

Slowly add the Cain’s Mayonnaise. (Cain’s is a New England classic. Second choice would be Hellman’s, a national brand. Never, ever consider using Miracle Whip or “light/lite” mayo of any kind, ever, ever, please!) One of the things we always liked about Gagee’s Chicken Salad was that it was “dry”. What we meant was that it wasn’t “soupy” or “gloppy”. You need to add an obscene amount of Cain’s mayonnaise to bind it all together. But it should always remain very “tight”. Rather like chocolate chip cookie dough is very tight and scoopable.

Add the onion powder, salt and pepper to taste.

We always serve it on little “finger rolls” (see photo link above), but this stuff is great naked and unadorned!

That’s it. Really. The first time I had the courage to ask my mother for “The Recipe” I was shocked. Just six ingredients and you’re on your way to Nirvana.

Note to Carrie, Kayla, Kate and Lorrie:
This really is THE Recipe. Go forth and make your family and friends very happy!


dancingmorgan mouse said...

would you curse me if I added a few walnuts, some teeny apple cubes and put it in a crusty roll?

Sue said...

Sounds divine and not like too much effort. I love those old family recipes that have no quantities and are really just a guessing game. Somehow they always taste great!! Thanks for making my mouth water again...

Sue x

barbie2be said...

these sound yummy! but, what is bell's seasoning?

purpleronnie said...

Between you and Roo.. I'm going to gain 10 virtual kilos hehehe!!
I'm having a braai (so glad you know what that is now) on Sunday.. I think I might just attempt this..

Pink Granite said...

Hi DMM -
I wouldn't curse you.
But I would hope that you would make it as close to described first, then, if you really, really thought you had to, add the fancy bits.
The crusty roll is perfectly O.K. tho'!
- Lee

Hi Sue -
It really is surprisingly straight forward. And very yummy!
I'm so glad you too like those old family recipes with a dash of this and a pinch of that. They are the best!
- Lee

Hi B2B -
Bell's Seasoning is a poultry seasoning which comes in a little yellow cardboard box with a turkey on the label.
Here's a link:

Bell's is a blend of herbs and spices and is pretty vital when it comes to making stuffing/dressing for a turkey dinner!
They're based in New England, but you can buy it online. Here's one link:
- Lee

Hi Ronnie -
Sorry about those virtual kilos/pounds!

The chicken tastes so good after it has simmered in the broth. It's moist and tender and can make a tasty sliced chicken sandwich as well.
But the chicken salad is a classic!
Plus the saying goes that a rich chicken soup is Jewish Penicillin!
Have fun at the braai!
- Lee

Wendy said...

I will give it a go. My only problem is the smell of chicken boiling away. ugh its horrid. But that salad on little rolls sounds just the thing for me

Pink Granite said...

Hi Wendy -
Sorry it took me so long to reply!

I think the key to combatting the overwhelmingly chicken-y smell is to build up the veggies and the broth first. Then when you slide the chicken in, it never goes beyond that steady, gentle simmer. Not only is the chicken super tender and moist, but it smells like soup from the beginning.

Then you can pack up lovely little sandwiches and take them to that oasis of a park near you to share with Lily and Kristian. Or stay home and have a proper tea just like Roo and Peter!
- Lee

Anonymous said...

Thanks Auntie Lee! I have to be very domesticated now that I am married and need a few new recipes to add to my list of meals...I love chicken soup so I will try this one weekend...CC

Pink Granite said...

Hi Carrie -
I know you'll love it!
And it will be great to have the next generation pick up the torch on the Chicken Salad!
- A.L.