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Classic Chicken Salad (Sweet & Tangy)

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This is classic chicken salad is easy to make with only a few basic ingredients, like mayo, pecans, dijon, and brown sugar. It’s so simple and customizable to suit your taste preferences. This shredded chicken salad is the best traditional recipe for cookouts, Easter, appetizers and summer BBQs.

chicken salad sandwich on a croissant bun, filled to the max with celery and pecans, sitting on a speckled plate next to a red napkin
delicious served with lettuce or as a sandwich

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE

This shredded chicken salad recipe is inspired by my grandma’s Easter chicken salad. It is a classic, comfort food recipe, yet full of flavor with celery, mayo, pecans and dijon mustard. This sweet and tangy summer salad is usually a crowd-pleaser at a picnic, a BBQ, or a potluck, regardless of the season or holiday.

This is the perfect recipe for you if

  • You want to save time. A few simple ingredients can be changed into a chilled, velvety salad, or into the filling for a homemade chicken salad sandwich or wrap in minutes!
  • Like to prepare easy, no-cook recipes. Keep a supply of this simple recipe on hand for last-minute sandwich preparation when unexpected invitations pop up!
  • Meal prep. Make this simple chicken salad recipe for the week ahead and keep it at work. No need to bring your lunch on the daily and it requires no clean-up!
ingredients for chicken salad, including pecans, mayo, sour cream, celery, lemon zest and dill
the BEST classic chicken salad recipe ingredients

INGREDIENTS

  • Shredded chicken – cook/poach your own chicken, or use a rotisserie chicken to save time
  • Celery– fresh and crisp is best
  • Mayonnaise – your favorite brand
  • Sour cream– full fat or fat free
  • Pecans
  • Dijon mustard- one of the secret ingredients, any brand will do
  • Brown sugar- this is the one ingredient you don’t want to skip
  • Lemon juice- from a container or fresh will work
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes – use less if you don’t like it too spicy, or more if you like a good kick
  • Dill – you can find fresh dill near the bagged salad section

Make use of leftovers from yesterday night’s dinner, as well as rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken from the grocery store.
Cooked chicken breasts or thighs or baked chicken chicken breasts or thighs are my preferred methods for preparing chicken salad.

chicken salad sandwich with croissant bread
customizable with your favorite bread

How to serve chicken salad

For this recipe, I used a croissant-type bun because I like the flaky texture and airiness. It’s perfect for Spring get togethers.

Any type of bread will work for this chicken salad sandwich dish; thick pieces of baguette or buns/rolls are particularly suitable. Also, plain, white bread or potato bread work well with this recipe.

This naturally low-carb dish that is also yummy served over a tossed salad.

instructions for making chicken salad by combining ingredients in a bowl
this recipe is too easy

DIRECTIONS

Prepare a traditional chicken salad in 15 minutes with only a few simple ingredients with this quick and simple recipe. I’ve limited the number of ingredients in this classic chicken salad dish to a minimum and kept it basic.

  1. Chop the cooked and cooled chicken and combine it with the celery and onions in a large mixing dish.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients.
  3. Add the chicken and toss well.
  4. Serve on buns, bread, or a bed of lettuce to make a sandwich.
chicken salad sandwich with a bite taken out
easily customizable recipe

EXPERT TIPS

Tips:

  • Add some grapes or mandarin oranges for a nice fresh flavor.
  • Serve on croissants or with crackers.
  • Make sure the chicken has cooled completely before shredding or chopping it into small pieces.
  • Adjust mayo, brown sugar and dijon to your taste preferences.

How to store leftovers

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

spoonful of thick and creamy chicken salad with a bowl of lettuce in the background
serve on a bed of lettuce for a lower carb count

FAQ

RECIPE VARIATIONS

  • The mayonnaise and brown sugar serve as the foundation of this recipe is lightly flavored, yet sweet and tangy. You can get creative and use ranch dressing or your favorite salad dressing instead.
  • Dairy-free diets: use dairy free dressing or make your own.
  • Avocado Chicken Salad can be made by substituting mashed avocado for some of the mayonnaise in the recipe.
  • Chicken salad with grapes, avocado, or dried cranberries is a favorite of mine, as is chicken salad with feta cheese.
  • The flavor and texture of this recipe can be enhanced by incorporating a variety of nuts, vegetables, and fruits into the mix.

Substitute for celery in chicken salad

No celery? Don’t like celery? Here’s some other ingredients to use.

  • green onion
  • cucumber
  • fennel
  • carrot
  • leek
  • green pepper
close up of chicken salad ingredients, revealing dill, celery, mayonnaise dressing, and lettuce
this salad is a big dill

How long does chicken salad last in the fridge?

This creamy, velvety chicken salad will keep in the refrigerator for approximately a week if it is stored in an airtight container.

Refresh the flavor with a little salt and pepper (or an extra spoonful of mayo) and serve immediately after stirring.

How to tell if chicken salad is bad

If chicken salad has gone bad, the color will not be as vibrant and it will begin to develop a strong odor. I do not recommend eating chicken over 4-5 days old.

Can you freeze chicken salad?

Chicken salad does not freeze well. Simply dice the chicken and place it in the freezer to prepare ahead of time. Combining it with the items listed below makes for a quick lunch on the go!

BEST SIDES FOR CHICKEN SALAD

  • chips
  • carrots
  • cheese or veggie platter
  • green salad
  • crackers
  • dill pickles
chicken salad sandwich with lettuce, pecans, celery, dill, and mayo on a croissant roll bun

Classic Chicken Salad

Thid classic homemade chicken salad recipe is creamy and delicious. It's the only recipe you'll need for BBQs, Easter or the 4th of July!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 264kcal
Author: Amber

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded chicken or leftover rotisserie
  • ½ cup celery chopped
  • ½ cup mayonnaise *Hellman's recommended
  • ¼ cup sour cream fat free or full fat will work
  • ¼ cup pecans roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest optional
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes optional, for extra spice
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill
  • bread, lettuce, crackers, or rolls for serving

Instructions

  • Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and stir well to combine.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 2 hours is best).
  • Serve with toast, crackers, as a sandwich, or add to a salad.

Notes

  • Add some grapes or cranberries for a nice fresh flavor.
  • If the salad mixture dries out, add a bit more mayo.
  • Serve on croissants, bread or with crackers.
Storage:
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freezing not recommended.

Nutrition

Calories: 264kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 10g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 48mg | Sodium: 200mg | Potassium: 177mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 188IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

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