On homemade baguettes of course. Picnic anyone?
This is my favorite chicken salad ever. I have to admit, I haven’t always been a chicken salad fan. It’s often too heavy, with too much mayo, and the texture is not-so-great. But this chicken salad has the perfect actual-chicken texture with a light and refreshing lemon-herb mayo. Topped with arugula and pesto on homemade baguettes, this sandwich deserves to be in a checkered-lined picnic basket.
Last year I scored an actual checkered-lined picnic basket from Goodwill—for a steep $5.99—and this is what I packed inside, along with fresh strawberries and Italian prosecco. And a Scrabble board.
Matt and I never picnic in the summer here in Florida since it’s just too hot and humid, but “winter” (which is just about here!) is prime picnic-time for us. From December to February, it’s nice to enjoy even just an hour or two on a blanket near the water, especially since we live just a mile away, with a basket full of goodies, books and games.
I should note that Matt isn’t one to exactly jump at any opportunity to picnic—it takes some pushing. But these sandwiches (and a breezy summer dress never hurts) usually does the trick!
It all starts with a great roasted chicken. Yes, you could just buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, but I promise you it’s so much tastier and healthier to make it yourself. Thankfully, I have the perfect simple, no-fail roasted chicken recipe for you right here on the blog!
As for the bread, you of course don’t have to go all homemade-baguette on these. This chicken salad is delicious on anything from sourdough to your standard sliced bread.
The lemon lightens it up—the lemon zest plays a crucial role here—and the fresh thyme gives it a nice aroma. I love the bite of peppery arugula paired with it, but you could also use romaine or spring mix.
If you want more of a crunch, walnuts would be a nice addition (bonus points if you toast and season them first!). I also love the nuttiness that pesto adds as a condiment for these chicken salad sandwiches.
This recipe may also be tweaked depending on how much chicken you have to work with. Like many of my recipes, the exact amount or measurement of ingredients aren’t super important—but quality of ingredients is. When it comes to mayo, my favorites are Ojai Cook Lemonaise and Sir Kensington’s.
And olive oil? Sometimes I like to mix it up and try different brands, but generally I like Lucini premium select extra virgin olive oil (Also a pantry staple of Giada’s !!!), California Olive Ranch’s everyday extra virgin olive oil is good too, or I’ll pick up a local olive oil that I really like. There’s one from my nearby farmer’s market that is really good and surprisingly cheap.
When I attended cooking school in Italy, I was so lucky to be able to try so many different olive oils. Over the years, I’ve learned about the different flavor profiles of olive oil—like grassy or peppery—but it really comes down to preference.
Regardless of preference though, you should always look for dark or opaque bottles, a within-the-past-year harvest date, and country of origin (read the fine print!) when selecting olive oil.
I make this every time I roast a chicken, and it’s so nice to be able to make multiple meals out of it. It’s perfect for work-week lunches too, and keeps really well in the fridge.
In terms of cutting up the chicken, I really prefer to just give it a nice rough chop. I like to see the chunks of chicken—it feels more hearty that way and certainly more deserving of the title “chicken salad sandwich.”
It’s light and airy, and so so delicious, I honestly don’t see myself switching this recipe up. It’s always a winner.
The recipe below includes measurements for ingredients that are good starting points, but as always, I encourage you to season to taste and adjust as needed. I don’t get the measuring tools out for this (or most recipies, if I’m being honest—I’m definitely more of a wing-it chef).
Have more chicken? Use more ingredients and taste as you go. Have less? You know what to do.
Lemon & Thyme Chicken Salad
- zest and juice from half of a lemon
- 3-4 cups of leftover chicken, roughly chopped into bite-size chunks. Hopefully these are leftovers from that chicken you roasted!
- 2 tbps extra virgin olive oil
- salt + pepper
- 1/4-1/2 cup high quality mayonnaise
- few sprigs of fresh thyme, removed from stems
- Place chopped chicken in mixing bowl.
- Add all ingredients and season to taste, adjusting amounts as needed.
- Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.