Why It Works
- A cold-water start and slow-poaching at a gentle heat keeps chicken breasts tender and juicy.
- Combining punchy pesto with mayonnaise and lemon juice creates a creamy, bright dressing for coating the shredded chicken.
This chicken salad gets its vibrant flavor from bright basil pesto. Speckled with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, every bite is pleasantly tangy, and it makes for a great easy lunch or mid-afternoon snack.
For his Best Chicken Salad, Kenji cooked the chicken sous-vide. I wanted the same tender and juicy results, but without the special equipment, so I followed Daniel’s method for cold-start poaching, which only requires a saucepan and some patience. The method is simple: add chicken to a pot of cold water, bring the water up to 150°F (65°C) on the stovetop and then keep it at that temperature. The chicken gently cooks, and it’s ready once the internal temperature at the thickest point reaches 150 degrees as well. The only downside to this method is that it’s quite slow, so to speed up the process I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of split bone-in breasts.
Once the chicken is cooked, I let it cool slightly before shredding it into pieces and tossing it with basil pesto, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. For the pesto, you can go all-out and make Daniel’s classic pesto alla Genovese, or just use store-bought. I also like to stir in chopped sun-dried tomatoes for extra flavor and texture. They’re sweet, tart, and chewy, and they complement the pungency of the pesto. Sharp and fresh, this pesto chicken salad goes great in a sandwich, on a salad, with crackers, or even straight from the fridge.