Southerners have strong opinions about chicken salad, partially because it’s a lunchtime staple across the South, and partially because there are so many different ways to make it—with fruit, with nuts, with lots of celery, with fresh herbs, with crumbled potato chips, with pickle relish, with horseradish, with hot sauce, and on and on. You can toss almost any ingredient hanging out in your refrigerator into some chicken salad and it will probably taste good.
Which is why I am not going to say you shouldn’t put grapes, or sliced almonds, or red onion in your chicken salad. Go crazy with the add-ins, if that’s what you enjoy.
WATCH: How to Make Chicken Salad
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And I’m definitely not going to say that mayonnaise doesn’t belong in chicken salad. That’s just blasphemous. (Although we do have a lot of feelings about which brand of mayonnaise is best.)
The one thing you shouldn’t put in your chicken salad is dark meat. Chicken salad is the perfect vehicle for white meat. Chicken legs and thighs have way more flavor than chicken breasts, which is why they are a great option for chicken dinners, but when it comes to chicken salad, you want the mild taste and firmer texture of white meat so that the creamy dressing and mix-ins really shine.
It doesn’t matter if you use a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, leftover chicken from last night’s dinner, or poach the breasts yourself. The important thing is to use white meat and shred it by hand, rather than chop it. Mayonnaise dressing clings to bite-sized shreds of chicken better than uniform little cubes. The only exception to this rule is if you like your chicken salad in more of a smooth, spreadable consistency, as a topping for crackers. In that case, chop away.