A creamy-crunchy crowd-pleasing chicken salad
By Naz Deravian
A quintessential American casserole, hot chicken salad is timeless, a comfort food that never disappoints and comes together in no time. It takes the components of a classic chicken salad, tops it off with something salty and crisp, and bakes in the oven until warm, bubbly, creamy and crunchy.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the dish’s provenance, as early as the late 1890s, recipes appear in community cookbooks from Kentucky, the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee, to the Midwest and even parts of the Northwest. With each recipe, the filling and toppings vary. The main components are cooked chicken (a cut-up rotisserie or poached chicken works great), mayonnaise, celery, grated cheese, lemon juice and slivered almonds for texture. To this mix, you can also add water chestnuts, pimento, onion, mushrooms, cooked eggs or canned cream of chicken soup, a stalwart of casserole recipes. In the 1951 edition of “The Joy of Cooking,” the first time hot chicken salad appeared in the book, the dish included a béchamel sauce.
Toppings can include breadcrumbs, crackers or cornflakes. But in the 1960s, when, according to Ronni Lundy, author of “Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, With Recipes,” warm or hot salads became popular, potato chips started appearing as a topping. They also finish this version, turning the dish into something that sends everyone rushing to the table.
That it’s so easily prepared with staples is part of what makes it “the first thing to come through the door” to provide comfort and support, said Kathleen Purvis, a former food editor at the Charlotte Observer and the author of “Distilling the South.”
“It’s the kind of thing people take when they need to take something to someone who is either bereaved or they’re going through something,” Purvis said.
Equally worthy of entertaining, dropping off for a friend in need or simply enjoying on a weeknight, hot chicken salad does precisely what is asked of a casserole: to soothe, lift up and spread joy.
Hot Chicken Salad
By Naz Deravian
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 1 hour
2 pounds cooked chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 large celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch slices at an angle
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated sharp cheddar (3 ounces)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon onion salt
Salt and black pepper
4 cups potato chips (classic or ruffled), lightly crushed, plus more as needed
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees with a rack positioned in the center.
2. Place the chicken, celery, mayonnaise, cheddar, almonds, lemon juice and onion salt in a large bowl and mix to combine well. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. The amount will depend on how seasoned your chicken is.
3. Transfer the chicken mixture to a 3-quart (9-by-13-inch) shallow baking dish. Spread it out evenly and top with the crushed potato chips. Add more chips if needed to cover the top.
4. Bake uncovered until the chips are golden brown and the mixture is warmed through and bubbling lightly at the bottom, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.