Makes:4 to 6 servings
Chicken salad, like potato salad, is one of those universal offerings at the deli counter. It looks attractive and delicious, but often ends up being a disappointing glob of flavorless chunks drowned in cheap mayo. Make your own version using an array of dried or fresh fruit, nuts, herbs, and spices. Your picnic pals will thank you.
Game plan: To minimize prep time, chop and measure the rest of the ingredients while the chicken is cooking and cooling. The chicken can be prepared and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance and the remaining ingredients assembled at the last minute. For a slacker solution, use the meat from half of a precooked rotisserie chicken (or 3 cups of meat).
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (from 1/2 of a small shallot)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
4 to 6 kaiser rolls or sandwich-sized slices of focaccia or ciabatta bread (optional)
Bibb, Boston, or iceberg lettuce (optional)
Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Rub the chicken on both sides with the olive oil and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet to a cutting board and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes.
When the chicken is ready, remove the meat from the bone, discarding the skin, cartilage, and fat. Tear the meat into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, almonds, cherries, celery, shallot, and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Stir to evenly combine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour.
If serving as sandwiches, divide the chicken salad among the bread/rolls and top with lettuce.