When you need lunch in a hurry, whip up a batch of this easy chicken salad recipe. It uses just three simple ingredients, but it’s a big hit on sandwiches or atop a bed of lettuce. You can make it using leftover chicken, rotisserie chicken or canned chicken — whatever you have on hand. This plain canned chicken salad recipe is made without celery and without eggs — just chicken, mayonnaise and pickle relish.
Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest ones. My mama has been making this canned chicken salad recipe with sweet relish for years, and it never disappoints.
Her easy chicken salad recipe uses only three ingredients. (OK, 5, if you count salt and pepper. But I don’t since I prefer to let my eaters add their own seasonings!)
For a delicious lunch, place a scoop of this easy homemade chicken salad and a scoop of southern style pimento cheese on top of a bed of lettuce. It’s also good paired with potato vegetable salad. For dessert, serve up some mandarin orange salad, aka Orange Fluff.
If you’re looking for a good basic recipe — chicken salad without eggs, chicken salad without celery, chicken salad without grapes — no need to look any further. Ditto if you’re looking for a delicious canned chicken salad recipe.
This recipe might not be fancy, but it’s good every time. (You’ll find the full recipe at the end of this post.)
It makes a mighty good sandwich (served between two slices of toasted wheat bread or soft white or wheat bread).
And it’s also good scooped atop a bed of lettuce.
We all have different skills in the kitchen, and many times readers have questions about how to prepare a recipe, which kitchen tools they should use and whether certain ingredient can be substituted. I try to answers those questions and provide as information as possible, including cooking tips and tricks, variations and substitutions, kitchen shortcuts, serving suggestions and what to do with leftovers.
If you want to get the recipe right away, scroll to the end of the page for a printable version.Jump to Recipe
Homemade Chicken Salad Ingredients
Go to the fridge right now, and you likely have everything you need to make a batch:
- Chicken — I normally use canned chicken breast, but you can also use shredded, poached chicken; rotisserie chicken; or leftover grilled chicken
- Mayonnaise — our preference is Duke’s mayonnaise. You can use the full-fat variety or a low-fat version.
- Pickle Relish — make sure to use sweet pickle relish, which usually contains finely diced pieces of sweet pickles and red peppers in a sweet brine
How do you make plain chicken salad?
I am not opposed to gourmet chicken salad with nuts, fruit, fancy spices and dried fruit. But for a sandwich, nothing beats this basic chicken salad recipe. Just those three simple ingredients, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and no more.
If you’re looking for a good, easy chicken salad recipe without celery, like my dad, this is it.
If you like your chicken salad without eggs (except what’s in the mayo), like I do, this will make your belly happy. I’ve never really understood why people put boiled eggs in chicken salad. No thanks!
You don’t really need a recipe, but I’m including one at the end of this post so you can get the proportions right.
- Place all the ingredients into a bowl and blend with a fork until everything is well combined.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste. You can also skip the salt and pepper and allow people to season the chicken salad when it’s served.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors meld.
Now, I’m pretty sure chicken salad is eaten everywhere from east to west, north to south and everywhere in between. But in my mind, it’s a quintessentially southern food, the kind of thing you’ll find at summer picnics or church potlucks or baby showers, served out of a big Tupperware bowl alongside the sweet tea, baked beans, potato salad, pimento cheese and mandarin orange JELL-O salad.
But no matter where y’all are from, I know you can appreciate a good meal, especially a simple one that can be fancied up depending on the occasion.
How should I serve homemade chicken salad?
This easy canned chicken salad recipe is very versatile.
Besides the simple salad and sandwich route, you can serve it in phyllo cups as party appetizer or on croissants for an event like a bridal or baby shower. Bake up some wonton cups and add a dollop of chicken salad for a bite-sized appetizer.
For a snack, it’s great on saltine crackers.
This simple chicken salad recipe can be dressed up, as well, when you’re feeling a little fancy.
Chicken Salad Variations
Starting with this basic recipe, you can create all kinds of chicken salad variations. That’s the beauty of a homemade chicken salad like this one. The base ingredients are simple, so if you want to add something else to it, you don’t have to worry about flavors clashing.
Some popular mix-ins include:
- dried cranberries
- red onion
- red grape
- bacon and cheddar cheese
- raisins and curry powder
- sliced almonds
- Other fresh and dried fruits.
As you add mix-ins, you may want to increase the mayonnaise just a bit to prevent the chicken salad from becoming too dry.
I’m always cautious about not overdoing it with mayonnaise. You don’t want the chicken swimming in mayonnaise. You just want to use enough to hold everything together.
People can always add mayonnaise to their bread if they want a moister sandwich.
I know I’m a southerner, but I don’t treat mayo as its own food group. I can only stomach a little bit at a time. It’s all because my prankster Mama stuck a spoonful in my mouth when she was giving me a mayonnaise hair conditioning treatment when I was a teenager.
See, all my food issues are my Mama’s fault! 🙂 (But mayonnaise does work wonders on your hair!)
More Easy Recipes You’ll Love
- Orange Salad
- Pimento Cheese Spread
- Spicy Firecracker Crackers
- No-Bake Cherry Yum Yum
- Overnight Refrigerator Pickles
- Grilled Chicken Salad with Fruit Salsa & Poppy Seed Dressing
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad
- Easy Hot Dog Chili
- Pesto Pasta Salad
- Copycat 1905 Salad
- Gourmet BLT
- 5-Ingredient Easy Chicken Pot Pie
Can I make chicken salad with canned chicken?
When it comes to the three basic ingredients in this easy homemade chicken salad recipe, you have flexibility there, too. You can poach a chicken breast or use leftover grilled or rotisserie chicken or open up a can of white-meat chicken. If using leftover chicken, you just want to make sure to shred it, using two forks or your mixer, before making the chicken salad.
My mom usually made this chicken salad using canned Swanson’s or Tyson chicken breast. I usually keep some canned chicken breast in my pantry so I can make this southern chicken salad at a moment’s notice.
What kind of mayonnaise should I use in chicken salad?
As I mentioned previously, I like to use Duke’s Mayonnaise in chicken salad.
If you’re watching your calories, it’s fine to use light mayonnaise in this recipe.
Can I use something besides pickle relish?
The pickle relish in this recipe provides a lot of flavor, thanks to the sweetness and tartness of the pickle brine.
I do recommend you use sweet relish, not dill pickle relish. You can also dice up some sweet pickles if you don’t have any relish on hand.
And I bet some sweet and spicy pepper jelly used in place of the relish would be pretty tasty.
How long will chicken salad last in the refrigerator?
You can store homemade chicken salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days.
Can you freeze chicken salad with mayonnaise?
Do not freeze homemade chicken salad, as the mayonnaise will separate. But you can make chicken salad using frozen cooked chicken that has been thawed.
What goes with chicken salad?
If you’re looking to make a meal out of chicken salad, consider serving it as part of a salad plate with a scoop of pimento cheese and a scoop of tuna salad.
It can be served on a sandwich, on soft broad or toasted, or on top of a green salad. You may also enjoy a side of fruit or fruit salad with chicken salad.
For a filling lunch, make your own restaurant-style “pick two” combo with a cup of soup and a chicken salad sandwich.
Is canned chicken healthy?
Canned chicken has similar nutritional value to chicken you cook at home. It is low in calories and fat.
Should you rinse canned chicken?
Before using canned chicken in chicken salad, drain off all the the liquid. You don’t have to rinse canned chicken before using it. But you can place it in a strainer or colander and rinse it with water to remove some of the sodium.
Is canned chicken cooked?
Canned chicken usually has a pink tint that is caused by the cooking process. But canned chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat without any additional heating or cooking.
If you love this canned chicken salad recipe as much as we do, please write a five star review and help me share on Facebook and Pinterest!
- 12 ounces cooked chicken breast
- 1/4 cup or slightly less mayonnaise
- 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish
Shred chicken with fork.
Add pickle relish. Slowly add mayonnaise, stirring to combine. Be careful not to add more mayonnaise than is required to bind the chicken salad together or it could overpower the dish.
Serve on a bed of lettuce, on white bread or toasted wheat bread or in phyllo cups as an appetizer.