This Cranberry Chicken Salad with toasted walnuts is a delicious fall twist on a classic. It’s easy to make (and make ahead) for lunch on an autumn afternoon.
Like most classic recipes, I find that chicken salad can be such a personal thing. Some like it very simply prepared, others like it packed with different flavors and textures that range from savory to sweet.
My Cranberry Chicken Salad falls in the latter category; tender, juicy chicken with a creamy dressing, crunchy celery and walnuts, and a pop of sweet-tart dried cranberries (craisins). It’s one of my favorite autumn lunches.
Chicken Salad with Cranberries: A Twist on a Classic
I developed this cranberry chicken salad from my family recipe for Classic Chicken Salad with Tarragon. The classic recipe has been a springtime favorite for as long as I can remember. It only needed a few modifications to become a fall staple in our house!
Our family’s chicken salad adds a touch of sour cream to the traditional mayonnaise base. It lightens the dressing a bit and makes the salad nice and creamy. Dijon and lemon juice are musts to brighten the flavor, and classic additions of chopped shallot or red onion and celery add crunch.
To make this fall variation, I kept much of the flavor profile of the original dressing, omitting the tarragon and adding in dried cranberries and toasted walnuts for an autumnal feel. (Toasted pecans are also a great addition if you prefer them to walnuts.)
What Kind of Chicken Should I Use?
I love to make chicken salad with poached chicken breasts. They’re easy to prepare and the meat is so tender, flavorful, and juicy. Plus, you can poach it ahead of time, and have it ready in the refrigerator a few days before you want to make your salad.
I’ve also made this recipe with store bought rotisserie chicken, or oven-roasted chicken leftover from dinner. Roasted breast meat can be a little less juicy than poached, but it works tossed with the dressing.
I also find that store bought rotisserie chickens vary quite widely in terms of their salt content, so be mindful of that when seasoning the chicken salad. Always best to salt to taste!
Whether you’re using poached or roasted chicken, cut it into about a 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice. I like my chicken salad to have nice-sized, meaty chunks of chicken, but still be manageable to eat on a sandwich without a fork.
Serving Your Chicken Salad
We love to make sandwiches out of this Cranberry Chicken Salad, served on a hearty 4-grain bread, as shown in the photos. The nutty, toasty quality of the grain bread pairs so well with the sweet-tart cranberries and the walnuts in this recipe.
I also can’t resist a scoop of this salad on lightly-toasted farmhouse bread or a buttery croissant. If you like, you can also make a wrap out of these with your favorite tortilla—whole wheat would be great!
I also like it with club crackers or crispbreads. For a lower carb alternative, the salad is also delicious served in a lettuce cup or wrap, or honestly, just in a bowl with a fork!
Prepping This Recipe Ahead
One of the best parts about this chicken salad recipe with cranberries is that you can make it a few days ahead for an easy fall lunch. The salad will last for 3-5 days from when the chicken is cooked, stored tightly-covered in the refrigerator.
If you’re making it the day you eat it, keep in mind that the salad does have to chill in the refrigerator for an hour before serving. This allows the flavors of the dressing to soak into the chicken a bit and meld everything together into a perfectly-textured, irresistible salad.
More Fall Lunch Recipes:
- Turkey and Brie Croissant Panini (Striped Spatula)
- Apple Cheddar Flatbread Pizza with Caramelized Onions (Killing Thyme)
- Curried Cauliflower Soup (Striped Spatula)
- Ham and Brie Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onion and Apple Spread (The Spruce Eats)
- French Lentil Soup with Escarole (Striped Spatula)
Cranberry Chicken Salad with Walnuts
- 2-1/2 cups cubed poached or rotisserie chicken breast , chilled (see cooking notes below)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste, depending on how tart you like it)
- 1/3 cup diced celery
- 1/4 cup diced red onion or shallot
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley , chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir in celery, red onion, cranberries, walnuts, and parsley. Fold in cubed chicken.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour for the flavors to meld. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper before serving.
- We like this chicken salad best on 4-grain bread, lightly-toasted farmhouse white, or croissants.
To Poach Chicken Breasts:
- Place 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a pot in a single layer. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Add about 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns and some aromatics to the pot, such as 1-2 garlic cloves, a few sprigs of fresh herbs like parsley, dill, and thyme, and a dried bay leaf.
- Add enough water to cover the chicken by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. You may see a white foamy substance in the pot as the chicken breasts cook; this is normal, you can either skim it away or leave it alone.
- Simmer until the chicken breasts register 165 degrees F at the thickest portion. This will take anywhere from 5-14 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts.
- Store poached chicken breasts, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.