Give me a sweet and salty combo and I’m a happy Farmer. My Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad suits said liking marvelously.
Chicken salad likes and dislikes can be about as individual as eye color, yet that is the appeal of the dish…one can create, add, take away, or combine just about any flavors and textures to make his or her very own chicken salad. Enter this Farmer’s Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad.
It is fall, ya’ll, if my raving autumnal posts haven’t given away that fact already. With a season change, flavor changes are also craved and chicken salad is a dish in which to inject these seasonal cravings. From apples to roasted pecans and walnuts to cranberries and a tangy dressing, this salad is easy, serves plenty of folks, and has just the right amount of tweaks to make it a new favorite. Roasting is the trick for this chicken salad.
Roasting the chicken and the nuts brings about a layer of flavors, a depth of richness that only this cooking technique can bring to the table, literally! I lather the thin chicken cutlets with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and garlic, and then season with cracked salt and pepper. These thin cuts of meat roast quickly at 400 degrees and make the house smell as if you’ve been cooking for days. The roasting process brings about the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and garlic which is then complemented by the simplicity of the salt and pepper. Same goes for the pecans and walnuts – the roasting brings out the oil, their natural essence, and is simply amazing how a little time in the oven can transform these nuts.
After the chicken and nuts have roasted and cooled, I make a dressing for the salad. Here in the Deep South, quite often your hometown or area can be pinpointed by which mayonnaise you grew up using. Hellman’s for us, but Duke’s and Miracle Whip round out the top three Southern staples. I use one cup of mayo (original, but the Smart Balance tastes great and a lighter version works well too) with a half cup of apple cider vinegar. I have made this salad many times and have substituted the vinegar with lemon juice, having been pleased with either ingredient. Honey and sesame seeds are then added, continuing my sweet/salty flair. Your favorite seasonings finish the dressing, whereas I use a bit of Nature’s Seasoning. Shaking the mixture in a lidded Mason Jar will make things quite easy. I taste test as I cook, so season to your liking.
The chicken and nuts have roasted (house smells divine), the dressing is shaken and ready for action, and now the time for the apples is nigh. I used Pink Lady for this version. Honeycrisp, Fuji, or any other fine tasting apple (not a mealy fleshed apple – they are better for baking and cooking) will do just fine. I chop the apples into bite size pieces along with the roasted chicken. Keeping everything a close size makes the salad easier to eat and mix. If your walnuts and pecans are a bit chunky, you can chop them too.
Combine the chopped chicken, nuts, and apples in a large bowl with the dressing. This dressing is my go to chicken salad dressing, and I tweak it seasonally, say a bit of parsley in winter or spring or some thyme in summer. Last but not least, add the dried cranberries. Mix all the ingredients together and voila! You have one of the best and easiest chicken salads to serve your friends and family. A hearty bread or crackers make an easy accoutrement and the flavors of fall are at hand. From this Farmer’s kitchen, I hope this chicken salad is a harvest of plenty for you and yours.
The Farmer’s Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad
**Cook’s Note: These measurements are approximate, please add or takeaway to your liking. Also, I LOVE the California brand of sundried tomato garlic - easy and delicious and found in the produce section.
2 packages of thinly sliced chicken cutlets
1 cup of small or chopped pecans
Half cup of chopped walnuts
Half a cup of dried cranberries
2-4 apples of your liking
1 cup of mayonnaise
Heaping half cup of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
A third cup of honey…use good local honey if you can
Tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds
3-4 tablespoons of sundried tomato garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Lay chicken cutlets on a lightly greased roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, spread with sundried tomato garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes or until juices run clear and meat is white throughout.
Roast nuts at the same time, but WATCH THEM CAREFULLY! If you start to smell them, then your almost too late…just until they darken a bit. Remove nuts and chicken from the oven and allow to cool.
Combine mayo, honey, vinegar, sesame seeds and seasoning in a lidded Mason Jar and shake until mixed thoroughly.
Core and chop apples. Squirt some lemon juice on them to keep from turning brown. Chop chicken and then combine with apples, nuts, and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over and mix well. You can always make a bit more dressing if need be. Serve salad by itself, as a sandwich, or with crackers.
James T. Farmer III was born and raised in Georgia, where he continues to live and work as a landscape designer. He shares his love of food, flowers and photography on his blog All Things Farmer. His book "A Time to Plant" is now available.