Opinion: Playing chicken 


Several years ago, the American Dairy Association ran a contest to find a recipe for the best grilled cheese sandwich. I was very unhappy about the entire cheesy affair. I feel that when you try to make a better grilled cheese sandwich, it’s no longer really a grilled cheese. Instead, it’s a cheese sandwich with artichokes. Or it’s a cheese sandwich that’s grilled with honey-maple bread. Or peanut butter. The ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich are simple:

American cheese, white bread and butter.

Now, I have an issue with chicken salad?

Wherever you go, you think you know what to expect when you see this on the menu: Chicken salad – $12.95. 

Don’t fall for it. This is no paltry sham. It is a poultry swindle of gourmand proportions.

When I see the words chicken salad, I have a childhood vision: small bite-size pieces of pulled roasted chicken deliciously mixed with real mayonnaise and succulent junks of celery to make the dish crunchy. That’s it. Maybe a little salt and pepper. That’s chicken salad.

So, what is chicken salad on most menus? It’s slices of chicken lowered onto a plate of soggy lettuce or spinach. That is not chicken salad. Allow me to say that again: THAT IS NOT CHICKEN SALAD.

I always have to explain this to a waitress who doesn’t quite get it. Mainly because the restaurant doesn’t serve it.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, do you have chicken salad?”

“Of course. What kind of dressing would you like on that?”

There’s the first clue that we’re not speaking the same language. You don’t put goop on real chicken salad. It’s already got mayonnaise. You can slather blue cheese dressing on slices of chicken that have been plopped onto a garden of green things. But never violate real chicken salad.

“Miss, I don’t want chicken SALAD. I want CHICKEN salad.”


“Look, how would you make egg salad?

“I’d hard-boil eggs and then smoosh them up with mayonnaise.”

“Great. Tell the chef to do that same thing — only with chicken.”

 She was still confused. 

“Suppose I ordered egg salad. Would you give me a big plate of lettuce with a hard-boiled egg in the middle of it?”

Her eyes lit up. It was finally sinking in.

I will admit that making the perfect chicken salad requires a certain deft touch to successfully combine these simple ingredients: chicken, mayo and celery.

If you are reading this and own a restaurant, I hope you appreciate the free advice. I have always believed that staying on top of things is good.

Unless you are a slab of chicken.