This classic chicken salad recipe with citrus is truly one of the best recipes available. It has the perfect combination of rich flavor and creamy texture – chicken coated in a creamed dressing which is balanced by a burst of juicy citrus.
The crunchy celery and toasted almonds are a serious bonus! It’s a mouthwatering salad perfect for backyard BBQs, potlucks, and brunches. Leftovers can be used as a filling inside buns, croissants, bagels, and more!
I LOVE chicken salads. It doesn’t matter the reason or the season. Whether it’s combined in a creamy dressing like this chicken salad recipe or it’s grilled pieces of chicken in a chopped salad (like this chicken salad with cilantro-lime dressing,) I’ll eat chicken salad any day.
High protein, lots of fresh veggies, and super simple to throw together in a pinch!
What kind of chicken do I use for this salad?
I typically use white meat for a chicken salad, but you can roast a whole chicken and cut up the dark meat, too.
Cook up 5-6 chicken breasts in the instant pot and you’ll have enough meat ready in minutes to use for this salad.
I have also been purchasing pre-cooked rotisserie chicken breast meat from Costco and that works perfectly for this recipe.
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Why do we make this recipe time and time again?
My family makes this chicken salad recipe for every family gathering – baptism, Easter brunch, baby showers, bridal showers, etc. My girlfriends are always asking for this recipe so I am so happy to share it here with you as well. It is seriously THE BEST chicken salad recipe ever.
It has tender pieces of chicken and crispy celery coated in a creamy dressing with an incredible pop of citrus that brings the entire salad together. It’s is elevated even further by adding crunchy toasted almonds on top. It has a richness of both texture and flavor that is sure to please a crowd.
It is the perfect salad for a main course or to stand amongst a nice spread for a brunch, a shower, a luncheon, whatever! When it comes to an easy chicken salad recipe that will leave you inspired, this is the one. It’s perfection!
What ingredients do I need for Chicken Salad?
- Oranges – Peeled and sliced into wheels. Makes for an adorable presentation!
- Orange zest – Using grated orange peel will add a bit of flavor that will pair nicely with the lemon juice without overpowering it.
- Chicken breast – Cooked and diced.
- Sliced celery – Adds such a fresh crispy element to every bite.
- Chopped green onion – Can also use chives.
- Chopped green pepper – An option to add more crunch and a flavor variation.
- Sour cream & Mayonnaise – Both used as the base for the creamy dressing. The higher the fat content, the thicker it will be.
- Lemon juice – A citrus explosion! Much needed to cut through the creamy texture.
- Granulated sugar – A bit of sugar is great to add a little sweetness to an otherwise tart salad.
- Slivered almonds – The almonds make the salad, don’t skip ’em…unless you’re allergic.
- Salt and pepper – Brings out all the flavors.
- Lettuce leaves – This entire salad comes together and is served on a bed of lettuce leaves. Can serve two purposes – presentation and function!
How to Make this Chicken Salad Recipe:
Step 1: In a large bowl, mix together chopped chicken, celery, onion, & green pepper. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, sugar, grated peel, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Step 2: Pour the dressing mixture over the chicken and other salad ingredients.
Step 3: Cover and chill for up to 3 hours. In the meantime toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven until golden.
Step 4: Grab your lettuce leaves (don’t forget to wash them!) and arrange them on a serving platter.
Step 5: Mound the chicken salad on greens and place the orange slices around the outside.
Step 6: Arrange the oranges around the chicken salad. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and get ready to dig in.
Chicken salad can be kept stored in the fridge in an airtight container or plastic wrap for up to 4 days. The toasted almonds lose their crunch after the first day, so if you are specifically making the salad to portion out, leave out the almonds and stir them in when you’re eating.
Due to the creamy nature of the dressing, it isn’t very freezer-friendly. You’ll end up with a mushy chicken salad and soggy vegetables.
You can! There are components of it that can be done ahead of time. Cooking the chicken, chopping celery, toasting almonds, and mixing the creamy dressing can all be done separately ahead of time and kept in the fridge if necessary until you’re ready to combine and serve. In fact, the only component that doesn’t keep well is the toasted almonds and the orange slices. Mix up the rest of the salad a day ahead and keep the orange slices and toasted almonds fresh for serving.
The mayonnaise and sour cream have a higher fat content, but you can substitute greek yogurt for a portion of either of these. The dressing will be a bit lighter and thinner, but still yummy.
How to Slice the Oranges into Wheels
Making orange wheels is festive and simple, but it can be a big mess if you don’t have a strategy to cut the wheels. This is how I do it. First, place the orange on its side and slice the top and bottom off. Next, place the orange on one of its flat ends so that it is secure. Use a sharp knife and cut the peel off, maneuvering the knife along the curve of the orange. Continue rotating and cutting the peel off. Carefully hold the orange on its side and slice parallel to the flat top/bottom to create wheels.
Variations and Substitutions
- Lettuce wraps. Keep some of those lettuce leaves aside for leftovers the next day. Wrap some chicken salad up in a lettuce leaf and have a lettuce wrap for lunch.
- Meal prep. Make this chicken salad for easy meal prep. Portion out up to 3 days worth of lunches.
- Sandwiches. Use as a filling in all of your favorite bread. Think croissants, french loaves, bagels, tortilla wraps, you name it!
- Make a dip. Omit the lettuce and the orange for garnish and pop the salad in the oven for a hot version. It will act as a chunky dip.
- A lighter version. swap the sour cream for plain yogurt.
- Sugar-free. Swap out the granulated sugar for some raw honey if you are trying to avoid refined sugars. I have even used Stevia to take the edge off the citrus. Alternatively, you can skip the sweet note altogether.
- Different nuts. If almonds aren’t your thing, try walnut, pecans, or cashews.
- Dried fruit. For a festive twist around the holidays (or just because you like the color red) add in some dried cranberries. Raisins are also a nice anytime option. Either one will add color and will bring another element of taste and texture.
- Fresh fruit. Adding pieces of fruit like apples or grapes (yes, seriously) is such an awesome pairing. Try it! Then try my broccoli grape salad for the same reason. It’s so good!
- Bring on the salt. Some salty add-ins that would be amazing are things like pickles, olives, and capers.
- Fresh herbs. Play around with some fresh herbs, adding parsley or dill would be great!
- Convenience. Storebought or pre-cooked rotisserie chicken can be used for added simplicity.
- 2 large oranges peeled and sliced into wheels
- 1 t. orange zest
- 4 C. chicken breast cooked and diced
- 3/4 C. sliced celery
- 1/3 C. chopped green onion or chives
- 1/3 C. chopped bell pepper (yellow or orange bell pepper look especially pretty)
- 1/2 C. sour cream
- 1/2 C. mayonnaise
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 1 T. granulated sugar
- 1/2 C. slivered almonds the almonds make the salad, don’t skip ’em…unless you’re allergic
- salt and pepper
- Lettuce leaves
- Mix together chicken, celery, onion/chives, & green pepper.
- In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, sugar, grated peel, and salt and pepper to taste; blend well.
- Stir into chicken mixture, cover, and chill for 2-3 hours.
- Spread almonds on baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven until golden (approx. 8 minutes).
- Arrange lettuce leaves on serving platter. Mound chicken salad on greens. Place orange slices around the outside and sprinkle with almonds.