Mayonnaise is the obvious go-to ingredient for turning last night's leftovers into chicken salad. But the creamy fat, while it has a luscious texture, tends to dull the impact of other ingredients.
We wanted to get out of the mayo rut and make dinner-sized chicken salads with fresh, bolder flavors.
We knew we wanted to use vinaigrettes but ran into trouble right away. Because oil and vinegar separate so easily, our first attempts clung poorly to the chicken, yielding greasy, watery salads. We would have to stabilize the emulsion (a suspension of two liquids that don't normally mix, like oil and vinegar) if we wanted it to stick to the chicken. We found that a properly chosen third ingredient, an emulsifier (pureed roasted red peppers, pureed sun-dried tomatoes, or peanut butter), not only provided stability but also contributed interesting, bold flavors. Using a blender to mix the dressings also provided insurance against separation. Its mechanical blade reduced the oil to small droplets more effectively than a whisk (the smaller the droplets, the more likely they are to maintain suspension in an emulsion). With bright, creamy dressing at the ready, we just stirred in handfuls of fresh vegetables, herb, and toasted nuts along with the chicken.