Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chicken Salad

We are now in the very middle of summer.  The weather is routinely hot, and very humid even when it isn't hot, so that any exertion tends to make one feel hotter than it would if the weather were cooler or drier.   So I have been short on inspiration to explore historic cuisine, and motivated to find some food that I can make in quantity that will not require cooking or need to be eaten hot. 

In exploring this issue with my husband, I found that he likes chicken salad, so I set out to find a chicken salad recipe we would both enjoy.  Naturally, there are hundreds of recipes on the Internet.  Eventually, we settled on this one for my first foray into chicken-salad making. I bought a four-pound rotisserie chicken to dismember for the cause; it provided enough chicken that I was able to make four times the amount specified in the recipe.  It was an instant success, though my husband thinks it might benefit from a bit of ginger.  That's definitely something to think about.

As always, I wonder about the history of the foods I choose to eat.  Surprisingly, the maintainter of the Food Timeline doesn't have anything to say about mayonnaise-based chicken salads such as mine; she only mentions a fashion for Chinese chicken salad that seems to have arisen in the 1930s.  Wikipedia led me to this article which suggests that the style of chicken salad I enjoyed tonight was first devised late in the Victorian period, which makes much more sense to me.

More interestingly, this website claims that chicken salad was invented at the Russian court in the late 18th century.  This article claims that the first chicken salad, called Salat Oliviye, was featured in Russian zakuska--a meal consisting of many appetizer-like foods that would be similar to the Spanish tapas if the dishes were lighter. Part of the attraction of Salat Oliviye was that it was made with mayonnaise, a French culinary innovation which was new at that time.

The article gives a recipe for Salat Oliviye that is in some ways similar to the "southern-style" chicken salad I made tonight; along with the chicken and mayonnaise it features dill pickle relish and hard-boiled eggs. However, unlike the recipe I used, Salat Oliviye also includes potatoes, capers, tomatoes and olives. Since I don't like capers and olives, and my husband doesn't like tomatoes, I'll probably be sticking with my lighter, simpler recipe.

EDIT:  My husband said that zakuska is more like the Scandinavian smörgåsbord. I didn't know whether that was the case, so I did some checking. It turns out that both zakuska and smörgåsbord are laid out all at once, like a buffet, so I guess he's right.  Tapas is used to describe a meal made from many appetizers, but tapas consists of small hot dishes, instead of cold ones. Also, tapas are generally charged for by the dish, and systems are implemented so the bar or restaurant serving them can keep track of how many of them a diner has eaten, so it's more like dim sum than like zakuska or smörgåsbord.


  1. Greetings, Cathy.

    How lovely to discover your blog. I, too, love all things historic and culinary. In fact, that's how I found you -- you linked to my article on Russian chicken salad. Thanks.

    As for the Russian derivation of mayonnaise-based salads, in Europe, almost any salad that combines mixed veggies, meat, and mayo is called Russian salad. Even today, chopped stuff with mayo is the most common salad in Russia.

    I will say that, even though I love capers and olives, I don't usually go to all the trouble of making a Salat Oliviye, sticking with the simpler American-style with which I grew up. But it's fun to for parties.

    I look forward to checking in regularly and find out what you are discovering.

    Happy hunting.


  2. Ah, Cynthia, so that was *your* article on Russian chicken salad! It was a good article. You are to be commended.

    I was not aware that in Europe, "almost any salad that combines mixed veggies, meat, and mayo is called Russian salad." If I'd known that, I'd have suspected the Russian history of chicken salad.

    I strive to continually be interesting, even when I'm not doing much cooking. Thanks for stopping by, and take care.