I‘ve spent plenty of time on these pages waxing rhapsodic about the “Famous” Chicken Salad Sandwich from Clayton’s Cafe in Yarmouth. It’s everything a chicken salad sandwich should be, and yet, seems so rare to actually find; huge chunks of white meat chicken breast, tossed lovingly with big plump red grapes, Danish blue cheese, and just a touch of mayonnaise to bring the whole thing together. The consistency of each bite is different, the grapes bursting and adding freshness to the otherwise rather earthy blue cheese and sharp bite of the sourdough. Served piled high on fresh sourdough from Borealis Breads, it was one of my favorite restaurant bites from 2011.
What really sets the chicken salad from Clayton’s Cafe apart from the supermarket deli counter competitors, though, is the chicken itself. Never stringy, never dry, the chicken somehow miraculously manages to stay tender and moist, making the sandwich shop’s judicious use of mayonnaise possible. I can’t make it into Clayton’s nearly as often as I’d like, and so I knew I would have to find a method for replicating their recipe at home as closely as possible.
Sous vide (literally, “under vacuum”) is a pretty hot topic in the culinary world, these days. Sous vide describes a French restaurant technique, whereby food (usually foie gras, eggs, or fish) is vacuum-sealed in plastic, and then cooked slowly and gently in a water bath at a much lower temperature than you would cook food on, say, a stovetop. The idea is that, by cooking meat at a temperature no greater than you want it to be when finished (for chicken, that’s 165-170 degrees), it’s completely impossible to overcook. It’s a nice thing to talk about at horrifically dull parties, not to mention a great way for Williams Sonoma to convince customers to purchase $800 sous vide immersion circulators that they will use exactly twice. It also happens to be an ideal way to cook chicken for chicken salad, while preserving its flavor and moisture.
We don’t have a sous vide machine. We take our chicken salad seriously, but not THAT seriously. This mock method for cooking sous vide (really, more of a poach) uses the same idea, however. Starting with cold water in a heavy Dutch oven, we’ll slowly bring the temperature of the chicken up to 170 degrees (our target temperature for the finished chicken breasts), remove it from heat, and let it finish cooking slowly. The result? Big chunks of the richest, most flavorful, most tender chicken ever to grace a chicken salad. It’s the perfect base on which to build a copycat of Clayton’s “Famous” Chicken Salad:
Clayton’s Cafe Famous Chicken Salad Copycat (Mock Sous Vide Method)
Adapted from a technique by Cook’s Illustrated
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 celery ribs, minced*
- 1 4-ounce container crumbled blue cheese
- 2 cups seedless red grapes, cut in half lengthwise
- Salt and pepper
- Oak Leaf or Romaine lettuce
- Sliced sourdough bread
In a medium Dutch oven, dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in about 6 cups of cold water. Add chicken and heat over medium heat until water registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, cover pot, and let stand until chicken register 165-170 degrees, about 17 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a plate lined with paper towels, and refrigerate until chicken is cool, about a half an hour. While chicken cools, combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, celery, blue cheese, grapes, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl, and stir well to combine.
Cut chicken into 1/2 inch cubes, and transfer to mayonnaise mixture. Toss well to combine, and adjust salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with lettuce on sourdough bread.
*Clayton’s doesn’t add celery to their chicken salad, but I like the little bit of extra crunch it brings to the sandwich. Purists, feel free to omit.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
This article marks our 500th post since we began From Away so very long ago, way back in the glory days of 2010. Jillian and I just wanted to take a moment to mark the occasion, and to thank you one and all for reading and for your helpful comments (over 4,000 of ‘em!) and suggestions over the years. If you weren’t reading, we wouldn’t be writing, and for that, we thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.