One of the best things to have in the refrigerator in summer is a large quantity of chicken salad. You can serve it on a bed of lettuce or make it into sandwiches. You make it once and you have it all week. And I think one of the best chicken salads is the one I make with tender all-white meat chicken, diced celery and scallions and for a little sweetness, green seedless grapes. Mine doesn’t swim in a torrent of mayonnaise. I like a little restraint and I also like a little punch of mustard in the mayo. Lots of black pepper and a little salt and there you have it.
This Chicken Salad is quite close to one that Ina Garten included in one of her earliest cookbooks “Barefoot Contessa At Home” (Clarkson Potter 2006). She was still trading on her “Barefoot Contessa” food shop and catering operation. There, she made Chicken Salad Veronique in large quantities. The great discovery in the recipe is how much better roasting the chicken breasts in the oven is over poaching them. The chicken flavor is intensified instead of being poached away in the water. The only real difference between hers and mine is that she eschewed any onion flavor at all and she seasoned the salad with 1 ½ tbsp. of fresh tarragon. No mustard went into her mayo either. By all means try her recipe by cutting the mayo in half and eliminating the scallions and the mustard. In doing so, don’t be surprised if the finished salad looks almost naked of dressing of any kind—the mayo just doesn’t stretch that far.
I wish I could tell you why this dish is called “Veronique”. The late Pierre Franey, who wrote the 60 Minute Gourmet column for The New York Times, published a recipe for a warm version of Chicken Veronique noting that the dish is of Parisian origin. But he took it no further than to say it’s come to mean any dish in which grapes, specifically the grapes used here, figure in its preparation. He then tossed off the following: “I doubt, as some propose, that it has biblical connotations after St. Veronica.” Well that’s all I needed to hear to scurry to the search engines.
The very first thing that popped up was on a site called “Catholic Culture.org”. There it is referred to as a “Catholic Recipe: Poulet Veronique”. That sounded very promising to me. But that was the end of it. No explanation was given for why it was a “Catholic Recipe” or why it was called Veronique. The recipe source was a site called “Catholic Cuisine”. And there it was in a collection of recipes including “St. Thomas S’mores” and “Saint Anthony’s Sermon to the Fishes Cupcakes”. (The former was invented by a woman married to a lawyer as a salute to St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers. The second featured the candy Swedish fish floating atop a sea of white icing.). But what of St. Veronique or Veronica in English. In case your knowledge of saints is limited like mine, Veronique’s role in Catholicism was that she was so moved by the sight of Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha and gave Him her kerchief to wipe His brow. He handed it back and it was imprinted with the image of His face. Pierre Franey was right. The only thing close to a reason for the Chicken Salad to be called Veronique is that her feast day falls on July 12th. And then only because this really is a summer salad. Here is the recipe:
A riff on Ina Garten's Chicken Salad Veronique
This Chicken Salad should become a summer staple.
- 4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
- Good olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup good mayonnaise
- I tbsp. Dijon Mustard
- 2 stalks of celery cut into small-dice celery
- 4 scallions cut into ¼ inch slices
- 1 cup green grapes, cut in 1/2 plus extra for giving your salad plate some color
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Step 2 Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside until cool.
- Step 3 When the chicken is cool, remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into a 3/4-inch dice. Place the chicken in a bowl
- Step 4 Add celery, grapes, and scallions, 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.
- Step 5 Mix the mayonnaise and mustard and then pour over the chicken salad and toss. Serve on a bed of lettuce with a few un-dressed grapes cut in half. Or use the chicken salad as a sandwich filling with your favorite bread.