My Famous Chicken Salad – A Translation

November 19th, 2009
 A lot of our clients have asked me for the recipe for what I call Boni’s Famous Chicken Salad .”  I am happy to share it with you, but of course, it comes with a story about it that I have to tell you first. 
Have they been into our dinner again?

Have they been into our dinner again?

For Those Who Like to Eat

 No, for you neighbors who are reading this, and you know who you are, it is not the story about the time Rosie and Marlowe (the puppies, in case you haven’t met them yet), got on the table and ate the salad while we all sat on the deck and finished probably one too many cocktails. 

No, this is about where I first ate the salad, and how I came to re-invent the recipe for it.

My Mexican Family

A lot of years ago, I spent several weeks studying immersion Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  This place was more like a school, with a campus and hour long classes on various topics.  As part of the program, students stayed with a local family, whose job it was to feed you and speak to you in Spanish whenever you were in their house. 

I heard many horror stories from other students, but I was incredibly lucky with my “family.”  What a dose of culture I got! 

My family consisted of a round, happy, beautiful mama, a young twenty-something daughter with a handsome and fun fiance, an hysterically funny late twenty-something divorced daughter, and her dance-crazy 8 year old daughter. 

Oh, and then there was the papa, who had moved out of the house to live with his young girlfriend, but who came home every Sunday afternoon to have dinner with his family.

There Will Be Music and Dancing

During the week, it was a non-stop party at the house.  There was a constant flow of friends and neighbors, unending talk, delicious food, and every single night, it seemed, there was music and dancing. 

Everyone was so kind to me, always including me in the talk, as if I understood, and making me feel most welcome.  It was easy and wonderful to join in the laughter with these gregarious people.  They even taught me to salsa (laughing at me the whole time, with my wooden American hips).  In reciprocation, I taught them to do American swing.  Yeah, their hips were as bad as mine when they tried to swing.

On Sunday, though, it was a different story.  Papa came home in the afternoon, and waited silently for dinner to be served.  He had his beer as he waited, but no one else had one (unlike the rest of the week). 

Oh, it was a very serious business.  Each of the “children” reported on their activites of the week, but there was no laughing, no chatter, no dancing.  It was a very quiet affair.

Papa ruled the roost on Sunday.  He stayed until about 8 PM, and, having done his duty, went on home to his young sweetie. 

Then the party began again.  The music came on, the neighbors came over, the beers were opened, and the dancing started up once again, to welcome the new week.

On the first Sunday that I was there, Mama made a beautiful salad for dinner.  It was made of local lettuces, sliced boiled potatoes, sliced onions, hard-cooked eggs, a variety of vegetables, and the most delicious beef slices that had been simmered all day in a secret sauce.  It was all arranged on a very large platter in beautiful layers.  Fabulous! 

The Salad, In Translation

When I got home, I decided to try to make the salad.  I had forgotten to ask for the recipe, and it was before the days of email, so I couldn’t just write and ask. 

Oh well, I thought I’d just wing it.  First, I had no idea how to do the beef.  So, I thought I’d substitute roast chicken for beef.  Then there was the matter of the vegetables.  I couldn’t remember what all had been on the salad, so I just added what I love. 

Finally, there was the matter of the dressing.  Hmmmm.  Well, I have long used a secret dressing first given to me by my friend, Chris Cogen.  Of course, she just told me how to do it one time at a party, so how I actually make it probably bears no resemblance to how she made it.  But I give her credit, nonetheless. 

So, below is “Boni’s Famous Chicken Salad,” along with, for the first time ever, my secret salad dressing. 

Naturally, as those of you who know how I cook know, many things have been changed in the translation of these recipes, as I rarely cook the same way twice.  And, I expect you will also change things in your own translation. 

Buen provecho!

Boni’s Famous Chicken Salad

Oh, another note before I start.  My favorite recipe for turkey stuffing comes from The Joy of Cooking.  After listing the ingredients, the author gleefully states “proportions are of little importance, as the stuffing is always delicious.”  The same is true for this salad.  It is always delicious.


Some kind of crunchy lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces.

Several boiled potatoes, sliced.  I use small red potatoes. 

Six or seven sliced hard-cooked eggs.

A roasted chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces.  I purchase one at the supermarket.

A red onion, or sweet yellow onion, sliced into thin rings.

Sliced rings of sweet red pepper.

Sliced rings of green pepper.

A couple of sliced tomatoes.

A couple of sliced avocados.

Arrange these in layers on a large platter, beginning with the lettuce, then potatoes, then eggs, then chicken.  Arrange the vegetables in beautiful layers however it appeals to you.  I always end with the red peppers and avocados, because it makes the salad so gorgeous.  Over this, drizzle my secret salad dressing.

Secret Salad Dressing – feel free to improvise, as this is always an improvisation on my part.

Good quality extra-virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.  I usually use about a cup and a half (about 375 ml) of oil to 3/4 cup (about 185 ml) of vinegar.  In any case, it is a 2 to 1 proportion.

A couple of cloves of peeled garlic.

About 1/3 cup, or 75 ml, of mayonnaise.

A large handful of fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Salt, fresh ground pepper, and whatever other spices you like to taste.  You can also add anchovies for Caesar Salad.

Chop the garlic gloves in a blender, then add oil and vinegar and blend.  Add the mayonnaise and blend some more.  Add the Parmesan cheese, and blend again.  Add the spices to taste.  If you are adding anchovies, add them with the oil and vinegar.  You won’t regret this dressing!

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