The 1-Ingredient Upgrade for Better Chicken Salad

It's a flavorful herb often used in French cooking.

<p>Simply Recipes / Getty Images </p>

Simply Recipes / Getty Images

For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have obsessed over this one chicken salad sandwich from a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We’d go far out of our way to get it, buy it for each other as a surprise treat, and talk about it. It’s a must-order any time we go, and if we’re in the mood for something else, we’ll order it to go or as a side. (A side sandwich, why not?) If we’re anywhere in the vicinity, even if it’s not time for a meal, we’ll pick up two for later. One for mom, one for me.

For the longest time, I assumed this chicken salad sandwich was unique to the “diner” it's served at—I use quotations because my New Jersey-born, diner-obsessed husband, and likely others, would scoff at the price and high-end ingredients on the menu, insisting I call the establishment something else. I simply thought I’d never be able to replicate the only chicken salad that ever mattered to me.

One day—and I don’t remember exactly when or how—I finally figured out the ingredient that’s the driving force behind our years-long adoration of this chicken salad and what makes it taste superior: tarragon.

What’s So Special About Tarragon?

Tarragon is a delicate herb with thin, long leaves that taste reminiscent of anise and mint, but not overly so. Recipes often pair it with chicken or fish. It is one of the herbs in the classic French seasoning, fines herbes, and a key ingredient in Béarnaise sauce.

To me, it tastes like spring, and I love adding it to pea soup, rice pilaf, or compound butter for topping salmon or poached chicken. When soup season winds down and spring vegetables pop up at the farmers market along with fresh tarragon, it’s time for me to make a big batch of chicken salad. I’ll make sandwiches with it every day until it’s gone. Then I make some more. This floral, deeply complex herb contributes next-level flavor to the chopped chicken plus mayo equation.

<p>Simply Recipes / Getty Images</p>

Simply Recipes / Getty Images

Fresh Tarragon vs. Dried Tarragon

Fresh tarragon is vibrant, herbal, and clean-tasting. It will brighten a chicken salad, which can often taste one-note. However, fresh tarragon is not as easy to find as other herbs, and because it’s so delicate, unlike, say, hearty rosemary, it also goes bad faster. I’ve bought a bunch of fresh tarragon only to discover it brown and wilted in the fridge soon after.

If you can't easily source fresh tarragon, you can use dried tarragon. Make sure it hasn't been sitting in your pantry past its expiration date; otherwise, it may taste dusty or stale.

Whether you use fresh or dried tarragon, this one ingredient is sure to elevate your chicken salad from pretty good to craveable, deserving-of decades-long love affair.

How To Add Tarragon to Chicken Salad

Chicken salad with tarragon is an upgrade you’ll return to again and again like my mom and I do. Now that I’m in on the tarragon secret, I’ll never make chicken salad without it. Here's the basic recipe I follow, which yields about four servings:

Mix one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh or one teaspoon of dried tarragon with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, and fold in two cups of chopped cooked chicken.

In addition to tarragon, you may want to add other ingredients to a chicken salad sandwich—like celery, cranberries, red grapes, or sliced almonds—for more texture and bulk.

Read More: Tarragon Chicken Salad

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