Southern Essential Recipe: Pesto Chicken Salad

Apr 17 2013

by Nealey Dozier

Southern Recipe Posted by Nealey Dozier.

We all know that as Southerners you can never have too many chicken salad recipes in your arsenal, especially with engagement party and bridal shower season upon us. Chicken salad is the quintessential dish for casual entertaining, and I guarantee this version—with its delicious parsley & walnut pesto and flecks of sun-dried tomatoes—will be your favorite for years to come.

Pesto Chicken Salad
Serves 4-6

This chicken salad is good served buffet-style at room temperature, but it would be equally good tucked in mini pita or lettuce wraps, or piled in small phyllo cups or tart shells. The pesto itself would be great tossed with pasta or smeared on crostini with goat cheese or mozzarella.

For the chicken:
2 1/2 – 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 breasts)
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
Handful of flat-leaf parsley (leaves and stems)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto:
2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 heaping tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:
Toasted, chopped walnuts
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Grated Parmesan

For the chicken, place the breasts in a large saucepan or braising dish and fill with enough water (or chicken stock) to cover by about an inch. Add the garlic, shallots, wine, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and cover. Let stand about 15-20 minutes, until the chicken reads 160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove the chicken from the pan and tent with foil (the chicken will finish cooking as it sits). Set the chicken aside until cool enough to handle; slice into bite-sized cubes.

While the chicken is poaching, make the pesto. Combine the parsley, garlic, walnuts, and oil into the bowl of a food processor or heavy-duty blender and process until smooth. And the Parmesan and pulse to incorporate. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Add cubed chicken to the bowl containing the pesto and gently toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper. Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors marry. Bring to room temperature for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. Toss with walnuts and garnish with tomatoes and a generous handful of Parmesan.

Recipe Notes:

(This recipe was originally published by Dixie Caviar for

Enjoy this southern recipe in this collection of our southern cuisine – let’s gather the best southern food ideas for The Southern Coterie cookbook.


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2 responses on “Southern Essential Recipe: Pesto Chicken Salad

  1. nealeydozier Post author

    Thanks, y’all! I’ve been eating it by the spoonful, straight from the fridge 😉

  2. lauravaraldo

    This looks delicious! Thanks I will make it for my friends and family tomorrow. I am Italian but I love everything South and I am enjoying The Southern C so much

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