The big difference?? Nuts. Pecans to be exact. Yes, I know that doesn't sound like anything all that special, but although I do enjoy snacking on peanuts and cashews every now and then, I've just never been a fan of them when they've been mixed in with other foods. I could easily sit and eat handfuls of dry roasted peanuts while I'm watching a movie, really. But adding nuts into fudgy brownies, cookies or candy, well... I want no part of it. Hmmm. I have a funny feeling that there are a few nut lovers out there, that just gasped in half of the air in the room. ;~) Sorry.
Anyway, back to the recipe. I decided that I wanted something slightly sweet with a lot of crunch and a bit of salty tang. Apples provide a good crunch, as does the celery and since I really wanted to do something nice for the Hubbs, I figured that nuts had to be a part of this, too. But, I needed them to be sweet and a little bit spicy. The scallions give a nice savory, tangy balance and the mayo is kinda like frosting on a cake. It just ties all of the other ingredients together into a creamy versatile, creamy salad for sandwiches or maybe a traditional "cold plate" lunch.
These days, I like to bake my chicken for most recipe preparations but that hasn't always been the case. I grew up eating my dear mother's baked chicken bless her heart, it was always a bit too dry and a bit too tough. That was before I had my current ovens. The difference is a feature called "convect roast" and it does the most amazing things to meats - and pretty much all things roasted.
Chicken cooked this way never fails to turn out crispy and brown on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. It's kind of like kitchen voodoo. Really. The next best method in my book, would be to saute or "brown down" the chicken (as my Nana used to call it) slowly in a skillet, until it reaches that same crisp/tender texture and flavor. It takes a bit longer, but it's so worth the results. You can cook yours in whatever fashion works best for you, of course.
I had five huge bone in, skin on chicken (split) breasts, but we had two of them for dinner on Monday night, so that obviously left me with three. That being said, once the meat was removed from the bones and cubed, it came to almost 4 cups for the salad. (I wasn't kidding when I said they were huge...) If what you have are more average sized chicken breasts, I'd go with between 4 and 6.
Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
- 3 - 4 Cups Chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 Ribs of Celery, diced
- 2 Scallions, sliced thinly
- 2 Medium Gala or Fuji Apples, diced
- 1/2 C Pecans, chopped, toasted and spiced
- Good Mayonnaise
- Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- Sugar, Salt, Cinnamon, Cloves and Oil (for the spiced pecans)
The chicken was roasted with a little bit of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and thyme. I guess you'd say that's my "house seasoning" for chicken. I will usually swap out the thyme for chopped rosemary for beef, or add in some sage for pork, etc. You get the picture...
If I only need a small amount of spiced nuts, I usually don't bother heating up the oven like I would to roast a large batch. Instead, I'll chop them first, then toast them in a dry, non-stick pan over a medium high flame. (Chopping them first also provides a better surface to spice mixture ratio than toasting them whole) When they start to turn a little bit golden and you just begin to smell that toasty aroma wafting up from the pan, it's time to remove them to a bowl or a plate to cool just a tiny bit.
In the photo below, I have about a tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of kosher salt, a heaping teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a small pinch of ground cloves. (Just mix it all together well with a fork before adding it to the toasted nuts) While the nuts are still warm, drizzle a scant teaspoon of light vegetable or coconut oil on them and toss to coat. Then, evenly sprinkle on the spice mixture.
Toss the nuts in the bowl (or on the plate), coating them thoroughly.
If the nuts have cooled a bit too much, you can throw them back into the pan over a very low flame and stir them around til they heat back up enough for the spices to stick to them, BUT if you do this, be very careful. Do NOT walk away from the pan and stir or shake the pan frequently, because these beauties can go from toasty loveliness, to burned (and bitter) in the blink of an eye.
Set the finished nuts aside to cool completely before adding them to the salad.
Chop the apples and celery into a small to medium dice, depending on your own personal preference. Try not to go too, big, though. Thinly slice the scallions.
Add the apples, veggies and spiced pecans to the chicken and then add a hearty cup of a good quality "real" mayonnaise. If you prefer a "salad dressing" like Miracle Whip, you can use that instead. (I'm a straight up mayo girl, so I couldn't say how it would affect the overall dish, but if that's what floats your boat... go for it!) You can always add more mayo if you need it. I ended up adding another 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but it's all about personal tastes. We like our salads very well dressed. :~)
Cover the salad tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. This is probably a no-brainer for everyone, but because of the mayonnaise in it, if you plan to pack this salad in a lunch box for consumption later, make sure you either have refrigeration available on-site, or that you place a fully frozen ice pack in the box or bag.
Holy Moly! I just learned that my Opa!-pa-sta Salad and my Garlicky Greek Vinaigrette were 2 of the top 4 of last week's "most clicked" links at Wednesday Whatsits, hosted by the super sweet Julie at White Lights On Wednesday!
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