What About Chicken Salad Actually Qualifies As Salad?

I can’t see through the copious mayonnaise to any solid reasoning
What About Chicken Salad Actually Qualifies As Salad?

Summer is upon us, something that happens in about two seconds flat in the Earth’s modern climate. With it comes the barbecue, and with the barbecue comes a culinary curiosity I’ve never understood: chicken salad. 

I thought at some point after I’d had a taste of the world and started paying my own rent, the idea of calling said chicken mixture a “salad” would come into focus. But I’m now a 33-year-old man with some semblance of age and wisdom, and the doors remain closed. Granted, I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise, which obviously takes me out of the running for enjoying this style of salad’s entire oeuvre (egg salad, tuna salad, ham salad, etc.). I’m also fully aware that this criticism is borderline treasonous to the right and classist to the left. 

At the same time, I think we can all agree that the nomenclature needs a little work.


Closer to a fucked-up Irish version of bibimbap than anything.

Now, as for why chicken salad is considered a salad, multiple sources chalk it up to the inclusion of “dressing.” They shut the book there, too, as if they’ve proven something. Excuse my French, but fuck ouef. In my world at least, straight-up, jarred mayonnaise holds no claim to the title of dressing. I understand that mayonnaise, aioli or eggs do serve as an ingredient in some more straightforward salad dressings, but I don’t think that gives mayo admission to the greater club. Dressings also include things like milk, but if you serve someone a bowl of milky seafood? That’s disgusting at worst, and a chowder at best.

A clarification that’s been lost to time would make all this a little clearer, and that’s the idea of a “bonded” or “bound” salad. More traditional salads are known as “composed,” or mixed salads, while bound salads are fashioned into a single substance through a thick agent. This distinction would be especially useful for salads that live in both worlds, like pasta salad. I, for one, never order pasta salad on a menu because it’s a coin flip between receiving a delightful, refreshing mix of rotini and cherry tomatoes (with perhaps a pesto vinaigrette), and a trowel full of beige, edible mortar. 

But if I spotted “bonded pasta salad,” I would clearly know to say no thank you. Not to mention, “bonded salad” sounds sort of old-timey and classy, like a bonded bourbon. We could also lean into the mayonnaise of it all and start referring to these so-called salads as “chicken mayo,” “potato mayo” or “tuna mayo.”

Casja Lilliehook

Your kale inclusion won’t work on me. In fact, it’s an admission this looks nothing like a salad.

The only thing I will say in favor of mayo-based salads is that the rants decrying them as a symptom of American excess are unfair. That’s because such salads have emerged across the world. Russia, in particular, lays a large claim to them, and potato salad is apparently known as ensalata rusa in South America

But just because the whole world agrees, doesn’t mean that they can’t be wrong. After all, half of the world thought the sun was some sort of bright wolf that went to sleep every night. For a clearer future, and menus that make more sense to whoever digs them up in a couple centuries, we must be strong enough to change. Otherwise, 200 years from now, YouTube will be filled with videos called “I Make 21st Century ‘Salad’ (YUCK),” like the ones they have today for lobster in Jell-O recipes.

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