Spicy Chicken Salad: A little hot, but very cool

by Terry B on June 4, 2008

Hot giardiniera gives this summery Spicy Chicken Salad a little heat and big flavor. It’s great on sandwiches or on its own. Recipe below.

Like we didn’t have enough going on in our lives, Marion and I also make art. She’s an abstract painter, and I do photography. We have a show opening this Friday, in fact, and we’re only kinda sorta ready for it. As a result, we are operating on very little sleep and eating lots of takeout. So this week, I’m digging into the Blue Kitchen archives for a wonderful and wonderfully easy chicken salad.

When the warm weather hits and the great outdoors beckons, we tend to get lazy in the kitchen. We still want good food, but we want it to be fast and easy to make and satisfyingly filling but not too heavy. Like chicken salad. To me, some leftover chicken and a little mayo is one of the great blank canvases of summer, ready to take on all kinds of flavors and personalities.

At the heart of this lively version is hot giardiniera, an Italian mix of pickled vegetables. You’ll find it in most supermarkets and some specialty stores. The mix of vegetables varies, but it always includes peppers of some sort. Other usual suspects are carrots, celery, cauliflower or broccoli florets, olives and pearl onions. Giardiniera is generally available in both mild and hot versions, although hot is relative, and we’ve sampled various brands over the years with varying degrees of success. There aren’t many national brands to speak of, so you really just have to try what’s available where you are. If it turns out to be less spicy than you like, adding a pinch of cayenne pepper to your chicken salad will turn up the heat for you. Also, if you have a choice, go for giardiniera that uses a mix of vinegar and water for the liquid, not one that includes olive oil. You’ll get fewer calories and a brighter taste.

And if you can’t find store bought giardiniera anywhere, recipes for making your own abound online. That sounds rather labor intensive to me, but to someone else, it might be a fun project.

I’ve adapted this recipe from one I found in Bon Appetit. It was part of an article on what prominent chefs like to cook at home. For this recipe, it said the chef [Mary---I forget her last name or the restaurant, sorry] uses leftovers from a purchased roast chicken. Not sure where she buys her gargantuan birds, but I used both legs and thighs and one half of the breast of my purchased roast chicken to come up with the 2-1/2 cups of chicken needed. Not exactly what I’d call leftovers.

You can use this chicken salad to make sandwiches, as I’ve done here. Just as often, though, we eat it as is, with no bread. Some fresh fruit or a fruit salad makes a nice side. When we had this over the weekend, Marion made delicious all fruit smoothies as an accompaniment. We felt very healthy and smug eating this lunch. Yeah, it had mayonnaise in it, but not much. Shut up.

Spicy Chicken Salad with Hot Giardiniera
Serves 4

2 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken, skin removed [see Kitchen Notes]
1 cup drained hot giardiniera from jar, chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise [or light mayo]
1/4 cup [packed] chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon giardiniera juices

The recipe calls for diced chicken. I cut it up into chunkier pieces than the standard dice, especially good if you don’t plan to make sandwiches with it. The giardiniera, conversely, comes chunkier than you need it for this dish—chop it into a rough dice. Combine chicken and next 4 ingredients in medium bowl. I didn’t have fresh basil, so I substituted chopped fresh parsley. Stir to blend well. TASTE FIRST, then season salad with salt and freshly ground pepper. The giardiniera probably adds plenty of salt, and its vinegary tang further lessens the need for additional salt. I added no salt to my latest batch. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Chicken. I used a store bought chicken this time. Often I’ll roast extra chicken thighs when I’m making some for dinner to use later in this dish. You can also sauté thighs or breasts [or both] specifically for this dish and just chill them in the fridge.

Leftover giardiniera. First, it keeps for a really long time in the fridge. Chances are, you’ll like this salad well enough that you’ll use it up making more. One use we plan to make of it is topping a store bought frozen pizza some hectic night.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 6/4/2008

Pretty much nothing. We’re busy, okay? But if you happen to live in Chicago and want to see some cool art, stop by our opening. Other galleries in Chicago’s Flat Iron Building have openings going on too.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean June 4, 2008 at 1:20 pm

I’m with you — I love to play around with left over roast chicken. My favorite chicken salad is cubed meat with mayo, tarragon, chopped pecans and sliced seedless grapes in a pita. I’ll have to try this spicy version, though. Looks yummy!

Terry B June 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Jean—That sounds like a wonderful use of leftover chicken! I especially like the tart sweetness the grapes would add.

carolyn June 4, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Okay, here it comes. I think that Arby’s makes the best chicken salad sandwiches in the world. Big chunks of meat, green grapes like Jean likes, and chopped pecans. So fresh, so tasty. (signed) The NonCook.

Terry B June 4, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Carolyn—If I’d had coffee in my mouth, I would have done a situation comedy “spit take” when I read your comment. I can never hear Arby’s without thinking of The Simpsons. They did a spoof of The Lord of the Flies, and when the shipwrecked kids are huddled around a fire on that first bleak night, one child says, “I’m so hungry, I could eat Arby’s.” The rest of the kids, in unison, reply, “Ewwwww!”

Helmut June 5, 2008 at 9:01 am

The sandwich looks good. Some pictures of your Exhibition would be much appreciated.

Marie June 5, 2008 at 4:17 pm

I love hot giardiniera, never thought of mixing some in my chicken salad, great idea, sounds great!

Deborah June 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

I absolutely love giardiniera so this totally caught my eye! I can’t wait to try it!

Jennifer Hess June 5, 2008 at 5:43 pm

I’ve only recently become a fan of chicken salad, but I am a huge fan of anything spicy and pickled – this sounds like another great combo.

Terry B June 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Helmut—Thanks! I’ll try to get some snapshots at least at the opening. Of course, we’ll be busy schmoozing, so who knows.

Marie and Deborah—It is pretty tasty, if I say so myself. Let me know what you think if you try it.

Jennifer—Chicken salad gets a bad rap as boring. But there are so many ways to dress it up that it can become pretty lively. We have Chinese and curry versions waiting in the wings.

Ginny June 6, 2008 at 12:38 am

Awesome! I’m going to be in Chicago that last weekend…trying to find a place to live…I would love to see your show if I have a spare min. Good Luck!

ming the merciless June 6, 2008 at 5:25 am

Oooh…I love GOOD chicken salad. Unfortunately I don’t cook OR I would be on that recipe like rice on white. :-)

Terry B June 6, 2008 at 5:59 am

Ginny—Moving to Chicago? How exciting! If you have any questions about where to look, please email me.

ming—What is it with New Yorkers and not cooking? Yeah, small kitchens, I know. Thanks for stopping by. I love your daily photos of New York. Your blog has become one of my daily visits for a New York fix.

Christina June 7, 2008 at 3:59 am

Oh, I would love to see your spousal exhibit of wonderful works. Congratulations for pulling it off!

Terry B June 7, 2008 at 5:00 am

Thanks, Christina! We’re just from the opening—it was a great party. More than 75 artists were exhibiting throughout the building, and there were live and silent auctions, all in support of Gilda’s Club Chicago, a wonderful organization that provides social and emotional support to men, women and children with cancer and their family and friends.

Sharona May June 7, 2008 at 5:34 pm

Looks good. I have never used hot giardiniera in Chicken salad ~ mostly just on brats or hot dogs. Sounds interesting .

Sharona may

Jean June 10, 2008 at 12:51 pm

How’s the show going? Too bad I’m in Cleveland, otherwise I’d stop by…

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