In 1907, an enterprising Philadelphia delicatessen owner named Edward Schlorer added preservatives to his wife’s mayonnaise and sold it as salad dressing. This might have seemed like a small footnote in culinary history, but it was a turning point in salad making. Instead of making boiled dressing, with flour and vinegar, cooks could combine Mrs. Amelia Schlorer’s mayonnaise, leftover chicken from Sunday dinner, a couple of ribs of chopped celery, and a little salt and pepper, without going near the stove.
It was inevitable that a recipe so ridiculously simple and tasty would take off with hundreds of variations, each with their own following. At Rebecca’s, a busy Boston cafe, chicken salad with red grapes and walnuts was a regular menu feature. The addition of juicy grapes and crunchy nuts to a simple mayonnaise chicken salad was so appealing that some customers ate it every day for lunch. Occasionally the kitchen ran out, and whenever this happened, grown men would sulk.
Like many cooks, we’ve done our share of tinkering with chicken salad, and whenever we think we’ve run out of possibilities, something new emerges. Some of the best ideas start with store-cooked birds. For instance, a main-dish salad, which can be put together practically on the spur of the moment, calls for a rotisserie chicken, vegetables and fresh basil and a garlicky vinaigrette, instead of a mayonnaise-based dressing. Like all chicken salads, it’s flat-out delicious.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.