spring chicken salad toasts

If taking cubes of chicken and other things chosen for their ability to hold up in a deli case and suspending them in a thick dressing of mayo and seasonings is the winter coat of chicken salad, this is the cardigan, which is to say, I hope everyone is as happy to see it as I am. I live for cardigan weather.

what I used
a few vegetable ideas

While I don’t have any tremendous gripe with traditional chicken salad (yes, even with mayo; I save my contempt for curry powder and raisins), I have forever had little love or tolerance for white meat. The archives here are thick with my referring to breast cutlets as pressed sawdust and worse; it could never be argued that I don’t know how to form an opinion. Thus, it surprises nobody more than me that I want to eat these everyday for the rest of my life, or at least the next month, and all it took was shifting the way we usually emphasize ingredients.


Here, inspired by Sqirl’s chicken salad — which gazing at does exactly nothing for my Los Angeles longing — a roasted bone-in, skin-on (for maximum flavor and minimum dryness) is torn into mid-sized shreds and tossed with a light vinaigrette before adding a great pile of thinly sliced cucumbers, radishes, celery, scallions and herbs — this is much more a salad with chicken than it is a a chicken salad with other things. As beautiful as the Sqirl version looked, favas are nowhere to be found yet in NYC, and even if they were, generally after going through the effort to prep them, I want them to be the main event. Instead, I focused on the kinds of spring vegetables readily available no matter what your growing situation is. Laziness motivated me to ditch different dressings for different vegetables; cravings caused me to tip this into Deb’s happy place with dark pumpernickel toasts, horseradish creme fraiche, dill and chives. Together, this was the kind of dinner we tore into and missed dearly when it was finished — hooray.

spring chicken salad toasts
spring chicken salad toasts

One year ago: Carrot Graham Layer Cake
Two years ago: Whole-Grain Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Three years ago: Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
Four years ago: Raspberry Coconut Macaroons
Five years ago: Spaetzle
Six years ago: Bakewell Tart
Seven years ago: Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread
Eight years ago: Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake and Chicken with Almonds and Green Olives
Nine years ago: Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake, Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas and Roasted Red Peppers

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: The Perfect Manhattan
1.5 Years Ago: Latke Waffles
2.5 Years Ago: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
3.5 Years Ago: Crackly Banana Bread
4.5 Years Ago: Apple and Honey Challah

Spring Chicken Salad Toasts
Inspired by Sqirl’s chicken salad

2 to 3 large toasts; could be dinner for 2

1 large skin-on, bone-in chicken breast (about 12 to 14 ounces)
About 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 small cucumber, such as a Persian variety, halved, thinly sliced
1 small celery rib, sliced thin
3 radishes, quartered lengthwise, sliced thin
1 scallion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon chopped dill, chives or parsley, or a mix, for garnish
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish, liquid drained off a little, plus more to taste
2 to 3 thin slices rye, pumpernickel or another dense health bread, toasted

Heat oven to 425°. Place chicken on a small rimmed baking sheet and rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool, then remove skin and bones and shred meat into bite-sized pieces.

Place shredded chicken in a medium bowl and toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper until evenly coated. Add cucumber, celery, radishes and scallion to salad and toss to combine. Adjust salt, pepper and vinegar to taste.

If you need horseradish crème fraîche in your life — I know I always do — combine crème fraîche, horseradish and a couple pinches salt in a small dish and stir to combine.

Heap salad on 2 to 3 toasts (i.e. more on 2 or less on 3). Dollop with horseradish creme fraiche, if using, and garnish with herbs.

Do Ahead: Chicken can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Shred just before using.

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75 comments on spring chicken salad toasts

  1. This looks like just the very thing for this spate of warm weather we’re having in the Midwest — I love it. (Though now I feel like I have to do something with curry powder and raisins, because there really is something there, I promise!)

  2. This is great I always want to make chicken salad for easy quick lunches but then the mayo-laden tupperware ends up ignored in my fridge because I can’t bear to glop it on to bread. For a little more crunch I might add slivered almonds or whatever other nuts are living in my freezer.

  3. Beth in Seattle

    Ok, there is a vegetable in the picture that I can’t identify and doesn’t seem to be on the ingredient list. The little white bulb? I see that the original recipe included fennel. Could that be it?

  4. MaryM

    Absolutely beautiful: the toasts and that marvelous, happy, must-be-teething baby girl! I adore my grandchildren, but I miss the days when they were that little and cute.

  5. This looks so yummy! I will have to see whether it would convert my husband, who is fiercely anti-poulet. When I think of the years I spent in Belgium, eating mayo sandwiches with a little chicken and, yes, curry powder, well, even good baguettes can’t compensate, and somehow the little sandwich shops never have good baguettes, either. I might go for a good baguette with this, and maybe even avocado. Some creaminess between the crunch of the cucumbers and radishes.

  6. Meeghan

    While I am a regular reader, I came today hoping to find a quick dinner idea as I recover from Easter excess. My house is full of dessert and the scatterings of my kids easter baskets. This light dinner perfectly fits the bill and is on the menu for tomorrow!

  7. JP

    Sounds so light and crunchy. Truthfully, my motto would be any chicken salad in a storm, but this looks especially nice for a change. Thanks, Deb!

  8. deb

    Two edits —

    1. Forgot the white wine vinegar in the ingredient list, my bad. Now fixed. Sherry vinegar works well here too.

    2. Endive — I show a small endive here. It’s an excellent addition; I was going to suggest it for those that don’t like celery. I ended up skipping it. Adding it will make this even more “salad-y.”

  9. Lynn

    This looks amazing and I’m plotting right now to get it on my meal menu this week! In the picture with the bowl of ingredients is a white cutting board – is that a Cuisinart cutting board? I would love to know where to get one – I had one and it mysteriously vanished last month.

  10. Mimi (another one)

    Boy this looks great. After all this easter eating and indulging, I crave crunchy veggies. And I love pumpernickel.
    Your little girl is TOO CUTE for words. The “tiny” stage is over so fast. My sweet little dumpling is 6 years now. Still a sweet girl, but so grown-up… ;-)

  11. Have you tried the Buvette chicken salad? I saw the recipe on Tasting Table and have been obsessed with it ever since. I can’t get 1/2 the ingredients (radicchio, endive, or herbs de Provence)(thanks New Zealand), and yet, my bastardized version is still delicious. Can’t wait to try this recipe, although I’ll probably just add the horseradish to the vinaigrette because hahaha finding creme fraiche.

  12. deb

    Deanna — Are you in my head? Was debating that vs. the Sqirl salad and then realized both were too complicated for what I wanted and did my own thing. But yes, love it, definitely find it inspired.

    Christine — Absolutely.

    sharon — Ha! Thanks. I’ll remind my husband next time he groans at my jokes that Someone out there thinks I should be on TV? :)

  13. Yona

    Oh, I am so evil for suggesting this, but can this just be salad, like, without chicken? If not, can it be replaced? DON’T HIT ME WITH THAT BAT!

  14. Laura in CA

    Do you know how much cooked chicken you end up with? I ask b/c I would like to make this by just buying a rotisserie chicken – all cooked and ready to go!

  15. Joey

    Deb, this looks amazing! Can’t wait to try it. Can we look forward to a Passover menu coming up soon, because your Thanksgiving one was incredible!

  16. Girlwithaknife

    Hi Deb, great looking recipe! I don’t love buying one special ingredient that I never use, in this case horseradish. I do have fresh ginger, however, also lemongrass in a squeeze tube and maybe also a little can of wasabi powder kicking around… Thanks for a fresh way to make use of my rotisserie chicken!

  17. Lorelle

    This is definitely going to be on my lunch list for next week! Regarding your chicken issue – I poach whole chickens to use the meat later. I poach them in water (obviously) along with coriander roots, lemon grass, onion, chillies, and whatever I think might be nice that I have in the fridge or freezer. Celery. carrot etc. Poached chicken in this way has flavour from the things you put with it, and it is incredibly succulent. Then once I have pulled the meat from the bones, I’ll again cook up the bones for another stock (along with any other bones I’ve saved and put into the freezer). Just thought this might be helpful. Kind Regards. Lorelle

  18. Kim Layton

    Thank you so much for publishing this recipe! I’ve been on a restrictive eating plan for a year now, but have been craving chicken salad. Finally a fresher, healthier alternative to the usual mayonnaise laden salad! I’ve grown tired of shredding chicken atop a simple salad with oil and vinegar dressing not thinking that I could ditch the lettuce “salad” in favor of a simple piece of toasted, good quality bread. Yay!

  19. I love chicken salad in all forms (including curry and raisins) but I love the lightness of this. I imagine crunch from the veg, a piquant herbal quality from the dill horseradish creme fraiche and meaty satisfaction with the pulled chicken. A winner and a must for my spring/summer.

  20. Tough to Chew
    In its quest to grow ever-bigger chickens to meet increasing demand for white meat, the food industry has hit an unexpected problem. A growing share of broiler chickens now can yield a pair of breast fillets that are heavier than an entire bird was a few decades ago. But a rising number of those fillets are laced with hard fibers in a condition the industry calls woody breast. It poses no threat to human health and can be so subtle as to go unnoticed by home cooks, but it degrades the texture of the meat. The cause isn’t known, but researchers say several decades of breeding in favor of heavier, faster-growing birds could be a factor. “It’s not the final weight so much as it is how fast the bird gets there,” said a professor emeritus of poultry science.

  21. stephanie

    i glanced at this when i got the email about 2am last night, and went to bed hungry. now at a more reasonable time to be thinking about chicken salad toasts it looks just as awesome. this is definitely going to be my lunch next week.

  22. deb

    Making this dairy-free — I forgot to add that I intended this to be completely dairy optional. I know a lot of people either don’t eat dairy or don’t eat it with meat. If you’d still like horseradish in your salad, you can add it directly to chicken when you dress it with oil and vinegar. This is no less lovely without the bloop of cream on top.

    Laura — No, I didn’t check the volume. 1 to 2 cups, closer to 1? Not very helpful, I know.

    Cutting the chicken — Nothing to cut here, as my store sells chicken breasts packaged singly. (So New York.) However, you are correct that I’m way too fussy to cut meat on my beloved black walnut cutting board. I keep my old Epicurean cutting boards around for large piles of onions (hate when the smell gets into the board, yes I’ve done the lemon and or salt thing) and for raw meat so I can dump it right into a soapy sink then dishwasher.

  23. muffinministry

    This was delicious! Loved the horseradish creme fraiche. Served the chicken salad over endive (inspired by you picture). Perfect seasonings! Thanks!

  24. Tamar

    I made this for a light, spring dinner tonight. Didn’t have bread around, so I tossed in a half cup of cooked-and-cooled quinoa. So delicious and very filling!

  25. Mark

    This was lovely, thanks for the inspiration. I made this but used your buttermilk roast Chicken with a tweak, came out a treat. M

  26. Debraj76

    Made this tonight and it was wonderful! I used 9 ounces of shredded chicken from the freezer, and served it over a huge bed of baby arugula (gotta get those leafy greens in). Grilled chapati on the side was perfect for “scooping”! Also posted on Instagram with hash tag #smittenkitchen. Thanks, Deb!

  27. Allie

    Deb, looks delicious, as always. Will be trying this as a healthy lunch soon! Just wanted to share something strange I’ve noticed.. I follow Bon Appetit on Facebook/receive their newsletters and they seem to be following YOU very closely. Why, just today (Mar. 29) I received in my inbox from them “Dinner Tonight: An Easy Chicken Salad Toast”… Sounds familiar. And this isn’t the first time I’ve seen their suggestions mimic your most recent recipes. Anyway, I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

  28. Clou

    I just this moment finished reading Laurie Colwin’s ode to chicken salad from her book Home Cooking. I’m a vegetarian but haven’t always been, and this looks delicious – especially with creme fraiche and horseradish.

  29. The Mystical Kitchen

    So springlike & refreshing without that heavy coat of mayo! I love the touch of white vinegar. Deb, there’s a recipe in this month’s Olive magazine for Bang Bang Chicken Salad, which I find extremely intriguing (peanut butter is involved).

  30. This made me laugh, because I am solidly a fan of chicken salad made with yogurt, curry powder and raisins, plus celery. I love minced candied ginger in it, too. I also like Chinese chicken salad made with noodles and peanut sauce. But if I ever want an abstemious version, I’ll check yours out because I love a lot of the things you cook.

  31. Mina

    I tried this for lunch today, and it is a delicious spring salad! Next time I think I would add a bit more radishes relative to the other vegetables, to give it a bit more of that peppery bite.
    I was also recently given your cookbook! So far, I’ve only tried two recipes, but they’re both winners. Well, three recipes if you count browned butter mashed potatoes as a separate recipe. I think I’ll never make mashed potatoes any other way again!

  32. Courtney

    This looks delicious. I’m having A Moment with chicken salads. Lately my kick is curry + raisins, but once this crazy NY weather settles down I will give this a try. I feel like you and I have similar seasoning preferences as well. I rarely (if ever) have to modify your seasoning recommendations.

  33. Missy

    This is a keeper! To Deba fans – I used a small mandolin to cut the vegetables (even the white parts of the scallions) and it saved me a ton of time. I made the mistake of tossing the veggies with the dressing and not the chicken which made the veggies pretty soggy about an hour later when we got to eat it. But the salt did draw the water out of the veggies and made more dressing which I loved. I’d recommend slicing the veggies and adding them only when you’re ready to eat it. The flavors are much more distinct and its crunchier. So yummy! Thanks Deb.

  34. sparkgrrl658

    another one i’ve had bookmarked for ages and finally ticked off the list! :)

    i had some leftover roast chicken from last night’s dinner so i used that. instead of the horseradish creme i just mixed in some mayo so it was a bit more ‘traditional’ but i’ll definitely try it as written when i have those ingredients on hand because it sounds fantastic. also wish i had some nice rye bread (which i love) but a good ol’ white bread sandwich worked just fine :) loved all the extra crunchy bits and especially the flavor from the scallions.

  35. Gabrielle Schapira

    Delicious! I loved the horseradish creme fresh so much I had to double it so I could have some w every bite.

  36. JP

    After looking at this recipe for, I think, years, I FINALLY made it tonight. It was simply lovely. Crisp, fresh, with just enough zing from the horseradish. Served it on lightly toasted a Jewish rye. Yum!

    1. deb

      Yes, I show a small endive here. It’s an excellent addition; I’d intended to suggest it for those that don’t like celery, but ended up skipping it. Adding it will make this even more “salad-y.”

  37. Laura

    This is SO close to a traditional Danish hønsesalat (hen’s salad or chicken salad), a traditional “filling” for smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches, mostly on ryebread). How weird! Definetly one of my favourites. We often make in spring with asparagues and roasted mushrooms and a little bit of mustard in the dressing, topped with crisped bacon :)

  38. xyz

    shredded leftover roast chicken, rest of ingredients diced or sliced, persian/lebanese cucumber, fresh mushrooms, celery, avocado, small pickles, toasted pine nuts/walnuts, dressing of wasabi mayo and creme fraiche thinned with water – just excellent.