Classic Chicken Salad

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This family favorite chicken salad is made with celery, bell pepper, green olives, apple, lettuce, and mayo—plus a secret ingredient that makes all the difference!

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Featured in 12 Meals to Make with Rotisserie Chicken

My mother and father make the best chicken salad. It’s a joint effort; my father assembles the ingredients, while my mom makes the dressing.

It’s not exactly your standard chicken salad. They like to include chopped apple for a sweet note, and also chopped green olives for their tangy saltiness.

VIDEO! How to Make Chicken Salad

What Makes this Chicken Salad Special

The “secret sauce,” so to speak, of this chicken salad, is the tablespoon of plum preserves my mom adds to the mayo-based dressing. You could use any berry jelly or jam, but as we always have a lot of plum jam on hand (thanks to several plum trees), that’s what mom reaches for first.

Mom balances out the sweetness from the dab of jam with a bit of lemon juice.

The result? Wonderful!

Chicken Salad with celery and bell pepper

How to Cook Chicken for Chicken Salad

If you are going to cook chicken specifically for chicken salad, the easiest thing to do is to poach it.

What I like to do is put a pot of 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt on to boil. As the water is heating, I cut skinless boneless chicken breasts into large (2 1/2-inch) chunks. When the water boils, I add the chicken, and return the pot to a simmer. Then I turn off the heat, and cover the pot and let the meat sit for 15 minutes in the hot water while I prepare everything else. Poaching chicken this way allows the chicken to cook gently, so the chicken retains more moisture.

After the chicken is finished cooking you can save the poaching liquid as light chicken broth.

Poaching aside, you can easily use any cooked chicken for this chicken salad—rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, or roasted chicken. My parents will often use leftovers from their favorite baked chicken, and even include some of the crispy skin in the salad.

How Long Will this Chicken Salad Keep

You can make this salad a day or two ahead of time if you wait to add the lettuce until right before serving. The salad will keep for several days in the fridge, but the lettuce will lose its crunch and get all wilty, so you may want to leave the lettuce out if you expect to have leftovers.

Do you have a favorite chicken salad recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Love Chicken Salad? Try these recipes:

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Updated May 19, 2020 : We added a new video to this recipe! Enjoy!

Classic Chicken Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Poaching chicken time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

We are poaching boneless skinless chicken breasts in salted water for this salad. You could also use any leftover cooked chicken meat, with or without the skin.


For the salad:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless (raw) chicken breasts, cut into 2 1/2-inch chunks (or 2 to 3 cups cooked chicken meat)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 to 6 green olives, pitted and minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 to 1 whole apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/3 head iceberg head lettuce, sliced and chopped

For the dressing:

  • 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon plum preserves, or any sweet berry preserve (or a lesser amount of honey)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1 Poach the chicken (skip if using already cooked chicken): Bring a pot with 2 quarts of well salted water (1 tablespoon salt) to a boil. Add the chicken breast (cut into large chunks) and return the water to a simmer. Then turn off the heat, and cover the pot. Let the chicken sit for 15 minutes (time it) or more while you prepare everything else.

2 Make the dressing: Prepare the chicken salad dressing in a large bowl. Mix together the mayonnaise, preserves, and lemon juice. Taste for the proper balance of sweetness and acidity. The salad dressing should not be too sweet, nor too sour.

Add more preserves or lemon juice until you have reached the balance you want. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3 Mix in the chopped celery, bell pepper, olives, red onion, and apple.

4 Dice the chicken, mix with dressing and vegetables: Remove the chicken from the poaching water and dice it. (Or dice already cooked chicken if that is what you are using for this salad.) Mix it in with the dressing and vegetables.

5 Add lettuce: At this point you can make ahead. When ready to serve, fold in the sliced and chopped iceberg lettuce.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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103 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Bruce and Laura Turner 'Heather Meadow Farm'

    My wife and I and our church congregation give large portions of their garden produce and lots of non perishable food to the two elderly home communities in our town. That being said, your recipes are generally easy for the elderly to prepare and easy to modify for the number of people they feed in their apartments. When I have a bunch of salad greens to give and canned chicken is available, I copy your recipes for them and they love that.
    We give ‘Simply Recipes’ a big THANK YOU from all of us.

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Alan D

    A very lovely salad! I had a piece of pork loin roast that we had grilled earlier in the week and was looking for recipes to use the leftovers… It fit great. I used elbow macaroni instead of the lettuce and sprinkled a little snipped fresh dill over the top. Very tasty!

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  3. Lucy

    Beautiful and love to try it at home


  4. diane duinker

    I loved it , i didn’t use olives ,for sweetness, i used Rhubarb with apple jam,went lovely together and all colors of peppers.

  5. Bebe

    When I have poached chicken breast, I would let it cool in a little of the poaching liquid. It reabsorbs some of the “broth” and is even more moist…

    I have made a simple curried chicken salad that everyone liked – adding a little curry powder to simple Best Foods mayo dressing, and adding some chopped mango chutney to the chicken and some chopped celery.

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Chicken Salad with celery and bell pepper in a serving bowlClassic Chicken Salad