When I was a little girl all of the southern women in my life knew how to make a kick ass chicken salad. Summers in the south can be brutal. The air is thick and still as a swamp. It’s the kind of heat that makes you feel like you’ve been swallowed whole. No one wants to be in a kitchen cooking midday in July in Georgia. Reaching for a container of cold savory chicken salad from the “ice box,” as my Papa Milton used to call it, was a lunch saver.
Born in Atlanta, GA (during a tornado, I might add), I was 4 years old when my mother divorced my biological father. Shortly before she remarried, when I was just 5, we moved from Atlanta to NJ, but I think some of my happiest times as a child were spent at my grandparents’ home in Atlanta with my extended southern family. When my mother was in the process of divorcing us from my biological father (another story for another time), we lived with my Nana Sylvia and my Papa Milton in their warm, yet formal, Sandy Springs home. While I was really raised in the north, so much of my southern Jewish upbringing is rooted in the red clay earth of Atlanta.
I am the oldest of the grandchildren and was the pied piper of my cousins. If I close my eyes I can still remember every inch of that house, every weeping willow tree on the property, the smell of my Nana’s meticulously maintained flower beds, the smoothness of the garage floor underneath my pristine white roller skates, their lavender pom poms bouncing as I skated in between station wagons. The memories of that house are as clear as my Nana’s Windexed glass windows.
I remember that house and that property more than any other place from my childhood. The days spent there were long and relaxed and hot. Throughout the day my cousins and my brother and I would move from the pool, to the playground, and then down to the creek that separated my grandparents’ property from their neighbors’. We caught frogs on the banks of the creek and then scrambled back up the hill to the wooden bridge above our heads, keeping our eyes peeled for snakes and yelling to my Papa back up at the house in terror and glee when we spotted one. Snakes were plentiful and poisonous in the south and my Nana was absolutely terrified of them. After playing all morning we would emerge from the pool slippery as baby seals and my mother and my aunts would wrap us in fresh towels still warm from the dryer smelling of “Gain” detergent. Together we would sit quietly, the cousin crew, side by side crammed under an umbrellaed table on my Nana’s patio, devouring cold, creamy chicken salad on crackers and potato bread. All washed down with Shasta and crushed ice.
And afterwards we danced.
While my Nana and my mother and my Aunts cleaned up our lunch debris, we danced.
Our bathing suits still warm from the sun, we entered the arctic chill of the air conditioned house.
“No wet suits on the furniture!” They would declare.
My mother patted each tush that shimmied passed her, checking for wet bottoms.
Dance parties took place in my grandparents’ massive den. In front of the built-in wooden bookcases that covered an entire wall, we would kneel and pour through their collection of records. Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Welk, but also Donna Summer, Hall and Oats, Air Supply and Chaka Khan.
We danced on the couch, we leapt off leather club chairs. The fireplace hearth was our stage, and the house filled with the sounds of the 70’s and the early 80’s. While the grownups cleared our chicken salad plates, we boogied.
So go on, put a little southern drawl on for a try, crank up some Chaka Khan and make yourself some homemade southern chicken salad.
Add what you like. Celery, pecans, apples or cranberries. It doesn’t matter. Make it your own. And the next time it’s hot as hell, have a dance party, tell your kids to leap off a piece of furniture (no wet bathing suits!) and think of me as you take a bite of your Chaka Khan chicken salad.
Jule’s Chaka Khan Chicken Salad
- 4 Organic Boneless Breasts of Chicken (on the bone is fine, too)
- 1 Container Organic Chicken Broth (you’ll only use a few splashes)
- Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise (optional)
- Optional Add Ins:
Season with any seasoning that you love. Lawry’s is the base seasoning for a lot of my cooking. It is basically my mother in the form of a seasoning.
What You’ll Need
- You absolutely do NOT need a crockpot to make great chicken salad. That said, I will tell you that once you start cooking with it you won’t ever want to stop. It takes chicken salad to another level.
- Cuisinart, Blender or a large metal bowl with two forks
- Rinse and pat chicken dry and place in slow cooker.
- Season with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and/or any other spice that you love.
- Pour a few glugs of organic chicken broth in the bottom of your slow cooker and turn on low heat for 3-5 hours.
- I usually do this first thing in the morning before the kids leave for school and allow the chicken to cook all morning while I write or putter around the house. Every hour or so I baste the chicken with the broth, spooning all of the juices from the bottom of the pan over the chicken. If you work outside of the house you can absolutely let it cook without basting or make this a weekend project when you’re home to give it a little extra TLC. This step kinda makes it next level BEElish!
- Once the slow cooker is finished cooking, shred the chicken while still warm reserving the juices from the bottom of the pan. The chicken will be like velvet at this point.
- Discard of any bones if you cooked it on the bone.
- Add the shredded chicken to your cuisinart or blender and begin to pulse. If you’re a mayo girl now’s the time. If not, you can start to add a steady slow stream of the reserved juices for added flavor and richness. Stop pulsing when you’ve reached your desired consistency and fold in your add-ins with a fork or spatula. I personally love my chicken salad the consistency of paté, almost like a spread. Grab your favorite crackers or bread, or for you skinny b*tches, place over a salad or stuff into lettuce cups or the inside of a scooped out red bell pepper. HEAVEN!
And as they used to say at my favorite childhood restaurant in Georgia, Aunt Fanny’s cabin, “Y’all come back now soon, ya hear?”