Let me give you the worst-case scenario first: somebody’s baby shower, a distant cousin perhaps. Skewers of watery fruit, crystal bowls of mixed nuts, small squishy triangles of chicken-salad sandwiches. The chicken salad is probably a traditional Southern recipe, studded with grapes and nuts or, worse, chopped hard-boiled eggs and pickle relish. For years, these sweet, gloppy chicken salads, starring ingredients that should never be bathed in mayonnaise, turned me off to the dish entirely.
There’s a good chance I’ve just offended someone. Chicken salad is personal that way, and the ingredients that horrify me may be the ones you adore. Luckily, I was introduced to a different kind of chicken salad in what I consider to be ideal circumstances for the Southern classic: a beach house kitchen in July, counter sticky with citrus from SOLO cup cocktails. Damp bathing suit, a chill from the AC prickling my legs. Thick slices of seedy bread in the toaster getting golden and crispy. A layer of fresh Bibb lettuce and a scoop of chicken salad—hurriedly stirred together that morning, bright and tangy and fresh thanks to yogurt, lemon, celery, and heaps of dill.
At last, the proper team of ingredients had been assembled, bringing the brightness and balance I always believed chicken salad was missing. This recipe has become my chicken salad now, the staple of beach sammies and summer lake picnics at my house. When I make it, I am as generous with dill as our mothers and grandmothers were with the pecans and grapes. Someday—God help me—I may find myself preparing this same dill-forward chicken salad in dainty servings for a daughter-in-law’s baby shower. Who knows what she’ll think? What I know: traditions that can’t evolve are traps, not treasures.
Dill Chicken Salad
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1-2 tsp dried dill to taste
- olive oil
- 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 4 stalks and leaves of celery
- 1 bunch scallions finely chopped, approx. 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cupe fresh dill chopped
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400ºF.
- Place chicken breasts on a sheet pan lined with foil. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the chicken breasts, rubbing to coat evenly. Season generously with salt, pepper, and dried dill. Roast chicken until a meat thermometer reads 165ºF, about 20–25 minutes. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes.
- Transfer cooked chicken to the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer and carefully pour in any accumulated juices from the sheet pan. Quickly shred the chicken using the mixer’s paddle attachment, or alternatively, shred by hand in a large bowl, using two forks.
- In a large serving bowl, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, celery, scallions, lemon zest and juice, and fresh dill. Stir until mixed; taste and season with salt and pepper. Add in the shredded chicken and stir until well combined. Refrigerate chicken salad until ready to eat; serve on sandwiches or with lettuce and crackers.