Chicken salad can be made many different ways, from Waldorf Chicken Salad to Curry Chicken Salad. But this Cranberry Chicken Salad is my holy-grail classic, the one I come back to again and again. This simple and tasty recipe is a great fridge staple for a protein-filled snack or sandwich filling. It’s perfect for picnics and potlucks, and can be assembled in 25 minutes.
Chicken Salad is one of the most regular meals in my eating rotation (along with Salmon Salad and Egg Salad, my other two favorites). It’s one of the few savory, healthy foods that doesn’t need to be eaten warm, so it can easily be packed for lunch, picnics, and potlucks.
I also love that if you’re the type of person who needs to keep healthy, ready-to-eat dishes in your fridge in order to stay away from the pantry (this is me), this is delicious and filing enough to keep me eating well. I just know that if I open the refrigerator door and there’s nothing inside to nibble on, stop #2 is the pantry.
Need a quick lunch? Layer this on crusty Asiago Black Pepper Bread with tomato slices and greens, and you’re set.
Need to nibble on a little bit of protein for a quick snack? I grab a cracker or lettuce wrap, add a spoonful of this on top, and find that it tides me over for a while.
This is a great recipe for varying up how you eat it, and that’s part of what makes it such a mainstay for my whole family.
Tips for Best Results
Slow cook the chicken breasts – My absolute favorite way to cook chicken breast for this recipe is in the slow cooker. It makes for the most incredibly tender chicken, with absolutely no browning on the outside. See Crockpot Chicken Breast for this easy method. You can also use pre-cooked breasts from the store, or rotisserie chicken.
Use a good mayonnaise – It’s wild how much the taste quality varies among mayonnaise brands at the grocery store. I actually now prefer to make my own Mayonnaise from scratch since the flavor is superior and it’s very easy, but if you’re using storebought, make sure you’re using a good one. I’ve had good experience with Sir Kensington’s brand.
Chill the salad for an hour before serving – This is optional, but ideally you want to chill the cranberry chicken salad for at least an hour before serving, to allow the flavors to meld and the dressing to soak into the meat. This is a recipe that gets better as it sits.
Best options for cooking the meat
If you plan to cook the chicken yourself, I highly recommend this Crockpot Chicken Breast method. I’ve tested and compared pretty much every cooking method: baking at various temperatures, grilling, broiling, poaching, and cooking in the Instant Pot, and making the chicken in the slow cooker is both easiest and results in the most juicy, evenly cooked meat. I always have it on hand for adding protein to salads and other meals.
For storebought options, most grocery stores sell both whole rotisserie chickens as well as cooked breasts. Both would be suitable options.
Step by Step overview:
In a large bowl, combine chunks of cooked chicken breast, chopped celery, finely chopped red onion, dried cranberries, and cut basil:
Ingredient Swap Ideas
I truly think the crunchy celery + sweet cranberries + fresh basil + red onion combination is the best. But if you want to play with it, here are a few swaps you could do.
Cranberries – Try tart dried cherries, raisins, currants, or dried blueberries.
Red onion – Try chopped shallot, which will have a milder flavor. Sliced green onions would also work well.
Basil – Try tarragon, oregano, fresh mint, or finely chopped fresh rosemary.
Nuts – Turn this into a cranberry walnut chicken salad by adding 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts. A cranberry pecan chicken salad is also delicious. Add up to 1/2 cup of toasted crunchy pecans.
Apples – Add up to 1 cup of chopped sweet apples.
For the simple homemade dressing, combine a great quality mayonnaise, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl:
Stick with mayonnaise for that classic chicken salad taste, but know that you can also try swapping in some sour cream or plain greek yogurt. You can also try lime juice instead of lemon, as it goes nicely with the cranberry flavor.
Whisk to combine, then pour the dressing all over the chicken mixture:
Toss well until the ingredients are evenly coated.
Now, there’s one more very important ingredient for this recipe…time! This only gets better as it gets a chance to sit in the fridge. This allows the flavors to meld, and also lets the cranberries plump up and get juicy.
The good news is that leftovers keep very well, which is why it’s the perfect fridge staple.
Ideas for Serving It
Make a wrap – Stuff into a storebought tortilla wrap or into lettuce cups, and pack for lunch or a picnic.
Serve with crackers – Make some homemade Rosemary Croccantini Flatbread Crackers or Buttermilk Crackers and spoon heaps of this on top.
In a croissant – Of all the breads you can use to make a sandwich with this, I happen to think a croissant is the best. It holds the filling well and has a soft and buttery quality to it that’s perfect here.
In a pita – Another great option that holds the filling well. Add romaine lettuce or whatever other fillings you’d like.
In wonton cups – These are an unexpected but delicious vessel. See how I did it in my Crispy Green Curry Chicken Wonton Bites post.
I LOVE all the different types of salads like this, so also check out:
- Egg Salad
- Salmon Salad
- Shrimp Avocado Salad
- Red Potato Salad
I make those all the time too for picnics, lunches, and general fridge snacking. Happy cooking!
Recipe Tips and FAQ
How do you store leftover Cranberry Chicken Salad?
Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Know that the fresh flavor starts to go downhill on day 3, but it will still be safe to eat.
Can you freeze Cranberry Chicken Salad?
The celery and basil don’t freeze well, so it’s not recommended.
Can you make Cranberry Chicken Salad ahead of time?
Absolutely, and it is better when made ahead! For peak flavor, do not make it more than 2 days ahead of time.
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Cranberry Chicken Salad
Servings: 4 , easily doubles, triples, etc
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
This simple and tasty Cranberry Chicken Salad is a great fridge staple for a quick, protein-filled snack or sandwich filling.
- 3 cooked and chopped crockpot chicken breasts*
- 2/3 cup chopped celery
- 1/3 cup chopped red onion
- about 20 leaves fresh basil sliced
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
In a large bowl, combine the chicken breast, celery, red onion, basil, and cranberries.
In a small bowl, whisk to combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper.
Pour the dressing all over the ingredients in the bowl, then toss well to coat.
Ideally, refrigerate the chicken salad for an hour or two before serving, so the flavors can meld and the cranberries can plump up. Then enjoy!
*I had 4 cups of cooked, chopped chicken, made from about 2.5lbs of raw boneless skinless breasts.
Storing leftovers: Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Freezing: Not recommended.
Make-ahead: Try not to make more than 2 days ahead of time, as the freshness and flavor start to deteriorate on day 3.
Ingredient swaps and serving suggestions: See blog post for ideas on ingredient substitutions and how to serve this recipe.
Calories: 466kcal, Carbohydrates: 11g, Protein: 65g, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 212mg, Sodium: 820mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 7g
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Course: Main Course
Post updated with new photos, writing, and tips in July 2018. Originally published in June 2014. Disclosure: this post contains an Amazon affiliate link.