The 12 Best Ways To Upgrade Chicken Salad Like A Pro

chicken salad on lettuce
chicken salad on lettuce - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Let's be real; chicken salad isn't exactly the most exciting meal on the table. The usual blend of celery, chicken, and mayonnaise can carry with it a hum-drum vibe, especially when you make it often. With that said, it's usually dishes like these that lend themselves to the most creativity, especially when you have pros on your side willing and ready to spill their secrets. Ingredients can be added in, changed, and swapped to make what once was a boringly standard dish into something incredibly enticing.

So, how exactly do you go about upgrading chicken salad? Let us count the ways. We consulted several food pros, from a Hollywood event planner to a head chef to a food blogger, to get you the most deliciously useful hacks to totally elevate your chicken salad game. Every upgrade is easily doable, and most can be executed using the ingredients you likely already have on hand. Join us as we share our experts' tips on the best ways to upgrade chicken salad like a pro.

Read more: Ingredients To Take Your Scrambled Eggs To The Next Level

Embrace The Crunch

nuts on chopping board
nuts on chopping board - Mykola Sosiukin/Getty Images

Experts agree; chicken salad is a smooth and creamy offering that benefits from the addition of a bit of texture. Whether adding crunchy fruits or crisp nuts -- or both, like this classic chicken salad recipe with apples and sliced almonds -- throwing in a few crunchy ingredients can help to set your chicken salad up for success.

We spoke with Rena Awada, owner and head chef at Healthy Fitness Meals LLC in the Detroit area, who gave a few details about what she personally loves to incorporate in her chicken salad. "Since chicken salad is typically a soft and creamy dish, adding some crunch can add a nice textural contrast," Awada explains. "Toasted nuts, crispy bacon bits, or crushed tortilla chips are all great options. I personally love the combination of diced apples and walnuts for a sweet and nutty crunch."

Daniel Meursing, CEO and founder of Premier Staff in West Hollywood, agrees that throwing in a bit of crunch adds an unforgettable element that can really set your chicken salad apart. "Toasted nuts, such as almonds or pecans, add a delightful textural contrast and nutty depth to your chicken salad," Meursing says. "Their crisp, crunchy essence cuts through the richness, elevating the overall experience."

Marinate The Chicken

sliced herbed chicken on board
sliced herbed chicken on board - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

When tossing together a chicken salad, most of us think of the components that go in the dish, rather than seasoning the ingredients that are already in there. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a basic chicken salad, but you don't need to stop there. As Daniel Meursing of Premier Staff explains, "At its core, chicken salad is a blank canvas — a foundation upon which a world of flavors can be woven. But why settle for the mundane when you can transform this unassuming dish into a culinary masterpiece?"

Food blogger Rena Awada knows this full well, as she breaks down the importance of marinating or seasoning the chicken you'll use in your chicken salad to instantly elevate the flavor and open the opportunity to experiment when assembling the flavors. "Instead of using plain cooked chicken, you can marinate it beforehand to infuse more flavor into the dish," Awada says. "Some great marinade options include honey mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, or a homemade herb and garlic marinade. It's a simple way to take your chicken salad to the next level."

Other flavorful options might include cilantro lime, smoky barbecue, or chipotle-flavored chicken to add a bit of eccentricity to the dish. Just be sure to mix up the ingredients a bit so that the flavors you use work to complement one another. But don't worry; more on that later!

Use Herbs Galore

man chopping herbs on board
man chopping herbs on board - Image Source/Getty Images

When it comes to using fresh herbs -- from how much to add to whether to include the stems to what to do with leftovers -- note that experts agree that this is a great way to go with your chicken salad. While most people flock to onion and celery to enhance the flavor of chicken salad, fresh herbs lend a non-traditional yet totally delicious twist. "Don't be shy with fresh herbs — think dill, chives, parsley, or even a hint of tarragon," states Daniel Meursing, who runs his own event staffing agency. "These aromatic accents not only infuse your salad with a burst of flavor but also add a pop of vibrant color."

Food blogger Rena Awada agrees that fresh herbs can add complexity to an otherwise boring chicken salad, giving it more flavor and depth. "Some great options include dill, thyme, cilantro, or parsley," Awada says, adding, "Don't be afraid to mix and match for a unique blend of flavors. The best thing about salads is they're not easy to mess up!"

Spice Up Your Life

spicy red powder
spicy red powder - Stefan Tomic/Getty Images

Most people don't associate chicken salads with spice, but honestly, it's a wonderful way to boost the essence of your chicken salad — if you're in the mood for it, that is. And it isn't as though all the spices you choose have to be "hot," per se. Some spices add enough distinct flavor to make your chicken salad delectably different. "For those who crave a little heat, incorporate a touch of cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard, or even a hint of curry powder," Daniel Meursing says. "These bold flavors will tantalize your taste buds and elevate your chicken salad to new heights."

It's worth noting that adding curry powder to your chicken salad creates a bold flavor that varies depending on the blend of spices involved. That's because while tumeric is the primary ingredient in curry powder, the other ingredients and their amounts can change the taste of your final dish. Meanwhile, cooking expert and home chef David Bakke at DollarSanity suggests tossing in some habanero peppers, adding, "If you're really adventurous, include the seeds."

Rena Awada also is a fan of adding spice to your chicken salad. "If you like a little kick in your dishes," Awada says, "You can use diced jalapeños, hot sauce, or even sriracha for a nice spicy touch. I also love using Cajun seasoning for a flavorful kick. Just be sure to adjust the amount of spice according to your preference." Delish!

Think Sweet And Savory Fusion

mangoes on chopping board
mangoes on chopping board - Mtreasure/Getty Images

Most of you likely know that fruit can be added to chicken salad to elevate its flavor, but it bears repeating. Sweet and savory incorporate quite nicely when it comes to a dish as plain as chicken salad, and our experts have the perfect recommendations on how to pull off such a blend beautifully. As Rena Awada explains, "Adding some fruit to your chicken salad can add a burst of sweetness and freshness. Some great options include diced grapes, dried cranberries, or sliced strawberries. The combination of sweet and savory is always a winning combo in my book."

Daniel Meursing takes the idea a step further with a few surprising options, like the use of mango and coconut, to further complement basic chicken salad flavor. "For a taste of the tropics, fold in diced mango, pineapple, or even a hint of coconut for a refreshing and unexpected twist on this classic dish," Meursing says. Still, he agrees that even traditional fruits can wonderfully accentuate the savoriness of chicken salad. "Embrace the harmonious marriage of sweet and savory by folding in diced fruits like grapes, apples, or even dried cranberries," he notes. "The subtle sweetness will perfectly balance the savory notes of the chicken and mayonnaise."

Looking for a totally unique combination of flavors? Check out this pomegranate chicken salad recipe featuring pomegranate seeds and a pomegranate molasses dressing. Or go more traditional with dried cranberries, like this Trader Joe's copycat chicken salad recipe.

Try Yogurt

yogurt in dish on board
yogurt in dish on board - Olgalepeshkina/Getty Images

Replacing mayo for another option like Greek yogurt might sound a bit unconventional, but it can work really well. In fact, even options like mashed avocado can make for a stellar chicken salad base, creating an amazing avocado chicken salad that's popping with nutrients. As Rena Awada puts it, "These add-ins not only make the dish more indulgent but also add some healthy fats and nutrients. Plus, they help bind everything together for a more cohesive salad."

Speaking of nutrients, we spoke with Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet, a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory way of eating. She filled us in on a few additional details surrounding yogurt and its benefits when added to chicken salad. "Nutritionally, Greek yogurt is rich in protein, which complements the protein content of the chicken, making the dish more satisfying and nutritious," she explains. "It also contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that support gut health, and is a good source of calcium, essential for strong bones. Compared to traditional mayonnaise, Greek yogurt is lower in calories and fat, making the chicken salad a healthier option without sacrificing taste or texture." She also mentions the versatility of Greek yogurt and how it tends to pair well with various herbs and spices, yielding a flavorful yet healthier chicken salad dish. Sounds amazing!

Say Cheese, Please

grated Parmesan cheese on board
grated Parmesan cheese on board - Alle12/Getty Images

This one might sound a little strange, but stick with us here. According to the pros we spoke with, throwing a bit of cheese into the mix can add a little special something to help enhance your chicken salad in the best way. "I also like adding some cheese to my chicken salads for extra flavor and texture," food blogger Rena Awada tells us. "Shredded cheddar or crumbled feta are great options, but you can also experiment with different types of cheese like blue cheese or gouda. Just be mindful of the flavors and choose ones that complement the other ingredients in your salad."

Daniel Meursing of Premier Staff chimes in, noting that protein-rich goat cheese "can transform your chicken salad into a decadent indulgence." He offers another option, saying, "A sprinkling of Parmesan can infuse your chicken salad with a delightful umami richness, taking it to new depths of flavor."

Experiment With Seasonings

person picking seasonings
person picking seasonings - Hazal Ak/Getty Images

We've already mentioned tossing in some herbs, but don't think you have to stop there when it comes to adding flavor through seasoning. Daniel Meursing, who is based in California, tells us that adding a splash of Worcestershire sauce to your chicken salad imparts a really awesome flavor, while a variety of other spices can help differentiate a basic chicken salad from one that's stupendous. "For a touch of smoky depth, try incorporating a hint of smoked paprika, chipotle powder, or even finely diced bacon," Meursing shares. "The rich, smoky notes will add an irresistible complexity to your chicken salad."

Jessie-Sierra Ross is a TV food content creator, blogger behind the site Straight to the Hips, Baby, and author of the cookbook Seasons Around the Table. She shares a few other easy and interesting tips for chicken salad, which she says is a must when prepping lunches at her house. "I like to swap out the standard salt and pepper and add a variety of spices and seasonings to my chicken salad," she explains. "Dried seasoning blends like curry powder are a nice surprise, and Montreal Chicken Seasoning can add a bit of kick."

Get Some Zest For Life

lemon zest with grater
lemon zest with grater - 4kodiak/Getty Images

According to the pros we consulted, adding a bit of citrus to your chicken salad can brighten up the rich and creamy flavor a bit, taking your chicken salad to amazing new heights. In this case, you wouldn't need to chop up whole citrus fruit pieces to mix in the way you might add grapes or apples. Instead, try using the zest. "A burst of citrusy zest, whether from lemons, limes, or oranges, can breathe new life into your chicken salad," Daniel Meursing says. "The bright, vibrant flavors will dance across your taste buds, adding a refreshing twist to every bite."

This is a fun and sustainable way to use the peels of citrus fruit to amp up the flavor of your chicken salad and make it that much more enjoyable. We could see this working particularly well when making chicken salad in the summer or when you want to add a hint of brightness as a contrast to the savory flavor of the chicken.

Eat Your Veggies

small pickles on fork
small pickles on fork - Kajakiki/Getty Images

Celery and onion are traditional ingredients in chicken salad, but don't let the fun stop there. There are plenty of yummy vegetables to add to chicken salad to instantly upgrade the flavor and add textural distinction. "Crisp, julienned vegetables like celery or radishes add a refreshing crunch and a burst of texture that complements the tender chicken perfectly," Daniel Meursing says.

Also, rather than using your standard pickle relish -- like this copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken salad recipe does -- it might help to go straight to the source, like using actual pickles in your chicken salad for even more of that vinegary savor. As Meursing puts it, "A splash of pickle juice or diced pickles can infuse your chicken salad with a tangy burst of flavor that will have you coming back for more."

Meursing believes whole-heartedly in the power of creativity and adventure when approaching any dish, but especially chicken salad. When it comes to vegetables and other ingredients to add, the world is your oyster. "As someone who has navigated the complexities of finance and event management, I've learned that the true secret to success often lies in the willingness to embrace creativity, experiment fearlessly, and never settle for the ordinary. So, whether you're a seasoned chef or a culinary novice, approach your chicken salad with a sense of adventure and a commitment to pushing the boundaries of flavor."

Smooth It Out

shredded chicken in bowl
shredded chicken in bowl - Vladimir Mironov/Getty Images

When cooking up chicken salad, a chunky texture is usually expected. With chicken, veggies, and the unique additions we've mentioned already, you can expect a chicken salad that's jam packed with the goods. Still, preferences differ, and we know that there are some of you out there who might prefer a smooth and creamy chicken salad over a chunky one.

Thankfully, David Bakke, a cooking expert and home chef, has graced us with a great tip for getting your chicken salad as smooth as possible: "Regardless of how I eat my chicken salad, whether it is in a scoop, on a sandwich, or topping a pineapple, I want it to be smooth. Therefore, lightly run your cooked chicken through the food processor to get this effect. Plus, this also lets you pick out any small bones. The processor will make a weird crunching noise if there are any." That's brilliant, right?

Switch Up Your Mayo

homemade mayonnaise with ingredients
homemade mayonnaise with ingredients - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

Last but not least, the pros that we consulted recommend thinking about switching up your mayo. We aren't necessarily talking about replacing mayo completely here, although you could do that too, as we touched on earlier with using avocado or Greek yogurt as a base. In this instance, however, we're talking about using a different type of mayo instead of the traditional sort to give your chicken salad that one-of-a-kind flavor without having to try too hard. And no, we're not talking about the difference between selecting mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip, though that is an option that will change up the taste.

Our pros have weighed in on this tried-and-true method, and using different kinds of mayo is definitely a trick of the trade. Food blogger Jessie-Sierra Ross has a specific and very delicious recommendation that we can't wait to try the next time we whip up some chicken salad. She chooses Japanese mayonnaise over American mayo. "Japanese mayonnaise uses just egg yolks as a base, instead of the full egg like American mayonnaise," she states. "It's richer tasting, creamier, and slightly sweeter than our standard mayo. This plays up the natural umami flavor of the chicken in my recipe."

Read the original article on Mashed