The Key to a Better Chicken Salad Is a Generous Amount of Schmaltz

Adella Miesner

(Bloomberg) — Editor’s Note: As more people are working from home, Bloomberg Pursuits is running a weekly Lunch Break column that highlights a notable recipe from a favorite cookbook and the hack that makes it genius.  Chicken salad is one of the harder-working dishes out there, but it doesn’t receive much fanfare. Adjacent meals […]

(Bloomberg) — Editor’s Note: As more people are working from home, Bloomberg Pursuits is running a weekly Lunch Break column that highlights a notable recipe from a favorite cookbook and the hack that makes it genius. 

Chicken salad is one of the harder-working dishes out there, but it doesn’t receive much fanfare. Adjacent meals such as roast chicken and chicken noodle soup have passionate advocates who claim the best versions of their dishes. You rarely hear people shout out the “ultimate” chicken salad.

It is, however, a dish worth caring about. Multiple variables go into it, from the shape of the chicken—chunks vs. shredded meat—to how much it gets accessorized with ingredients such as dried fruit and herbs.

Chicken salad should be considered a secret weapon, especially around the Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, says Jeffrey Yoskowitz. (The Jewish New Year starts on Friday, Sept. 18.) He’s co-founder of Gefilteria in Brooklyn. Pronounced ge-filte-ria—“like a taqueria but with gefilte fish instead of tacos”—the company promotes Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European Jewish) foods and offers classes on subjects such as pickling.  

His recipe first appeared in the cookbook he and partner Liz Alpern co-authored: The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Food (Flatiron Books; $35). Instructions for the “greatest hits of Jewish cooking” such as brisket and matzo ball soup got the most attention, says Yoskowitz, but he adores this chicken salad and for good reason.

The dish makes use of the best part of many Jewish holiday meals—the chicken soup—by transforming the cooked bird into an all-purpose food that has more personality than people give it credit for. “Chicken salad is the bridge between the holiday and every day,” he says.

Yoskowitz’s chicken salad recipe also co-stars in “A Seat at the Table: A Journey into Jewish Food,” an online class from YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The free series offers over 100 hours of digital content, including lessons on how to build a better sandwich from Katz Deli owner Jake Dell and lox slicing tutorials, courtesy of Josh Ross Tupper, co-owner of Russ & Daughters. More than 10,000 people have signed up for it so far.

The original recipe comes from his grandfather, who became locally famous for the version he made at Michael’s Deli in Marblehead, Mass. (It’s since moved to Brookline, Mass.) What made it special to Yoskowitz’s grandmother was a healthy sprinkling of white pepper instead of black pepper—a more fragrant, less aggressive spice. But what makes it addictive is the genius addition of a couple of tablespoons of chicken fat, or schmaltz, stirred in with the mayonnaise.

The result is a salad, studded with a modest amount of chopped celery and peppers, that’s quietly decadent. If you’re making soup, of course you’ll have some schmaltz on hand. If you’re starting with leftover cooked meat, you can buy rendered chicken fat from most grocery stores; if it’s sold out, you can do as I did and substitute rendered duck fat.

“Rendered duck fat makes it even more special,” says Yoskowitz. “In fact, in Old World Jewish cooking, there was a hierarchy of fat. Goose fat is at the top, then duck fat, then chicken fat.” He adds: “We know our fats.”  

The following recipe is adapted from The Gefilte Manifesto, by Jeffrey Yoskowitz & Liz Alpern.

Ultimate Chicken Salad



a plate of food on a table: chicken-salad-06.jpg


© Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg
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Serves 4

1 ¾ cup (packed) shredded cooked chicken meat (about 1⁄2 lb.) 

3 tbsp. mayonnaise, plus more if needed 

2 tbsp. schmaltz or grapeseed oil, plus more if needed

1/3 cup minced celery 

1⁄4 cup minced red bell pepper

1⁄4 cup minced green bell pepper 

1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper, or to taste 

1⁄4 tsp. celery seed 

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed

8 slices of rye bread (optional)



a plate of food sitting on top of a wooden table: chicken-salad-01.jpg


© Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg
chicken-salad-01.jpg

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir with a large spoon to break the chicken into smaller pieces, and evenly distribute the vegetables and spices throughout. If it seems a bit dry, add further mayonnaise and/or schmaltz. Make sandwiches with the rye bread and serve.

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