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California Chicken Salad

Our crunchy and slightly sweet California chicken salad features shredded chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans tossed in a creamy, flavorful dressing. Serve the salad as is, with crackers as a dip, or use it as a filling for a croissant, pita, or spinach protein wrap

A close up of california chicken salad with a fork in it.

What is a California Chicken Salad?

Make our Whole Food’s Sonoma chicken salad copycat! The original salad recipe features chicken breast, grapes, celery, and pecans, adorned with a creamy mayonnaise and poppy seed dressing.

Our version doesn’t stray too far from the original. The most notable difference is replacing some of the mayonnaise with full-fat Greek yogurt as the base for the dressing. I also include scallions for another layer of crunch and bright, peppery flavor.

Prepare a batch of our California chicken salad in advance for a convenient lunch and dinner, or showcase it at your next gathering or potluck as a dip or grab-and-go croissant sandwich.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Poppy Seed Dressing: I love the combination of full-fat Greek yogurt and mayonnaise for the salad dressing. Flavor it with apple cider vinegar (red wine vinegar), honey, poppy seeds, black pepper, and kosher salt.
  • Chicken Breast: Tender pre-cooked chicken breast is the base for this delicious chicken salad. Use rotisserie, canned, or leftover chicken.
  • Grapes: Grapes are the sweet and refreshing complement to the savory components of the salad.
  • Celery: Celery provides a satisfying crunch.
  • Scallions: Scallions provide a nice peppery finish, or you can use finely diced red onion.
  • Pecans: Chopped and toasted pecans are a tasty contrast to tender chicken.

Additions and Substitutions

  • Protein: Crumbled bacon bits are a savory addition.
  • Vegetables: Add cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, avocado, bell peppers, red onions, carrots, or spring lettuce to the salad.
  • Fruit: Replace grapes in the recipe with sliced strawberries, blueberries, cherries, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, or diced mangoes.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Consider adding toasted almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds instead of toasted pecans.

How to Make California Chicken Salad

The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.

Step 1: Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a liquid measuring cup and set it aside.

The ingredients for the dressing combined in a liquid measuring cup.

Step 2: Warm a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans, and toast them for 3 minutes. Set them aside.

Step 3: Add the chicken, grapes, celery, scallions, and toasted pecans to a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and toss to combine. For the best results, let it chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

All of the chicken, vegetables, and dressing for the California chicken salad in a serving bowl.

Expert Tips

  • If you’re using boiled or grilled chicken breast, allow the chicken to cool before adding it to the salad with the dressing.
  • The salad is best served cold. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving for the best results.

If you enjoy this meal, try one of these salad recipes!

A croissant filled with california chicken salad.

Ways to Use Chicken Salad

  • Slice open a croissant and fill them with chicken salad for a perfect brunch or light lunch.
  • Spread the chicken between slices of bread, fill a pita, or wrap it in a tortilla.
  • Add a scoop of the Sonoma chicken salad to a tossed green salad for added protein.
  • Hollow out peppers like bell or poblano peppers and fill them with chicken salad.
  • Like my ground beef lettuce wraps, use romaine or butter lettuce leaves as cups and fill them with California chicken salad for a tasty low carb option.
  • Spoon small amounts of the salad onto crackers or toasted crostini to create a bite-sized appetizer perfect for get-togethers and parties.
  • Make it party-size by spreading the chicken onto a party-sized sub or Hawaiian rolls like we do our brisket sliders.

What to do with the Leftovers

  • Refrigerate: Store the leftover chicken salad in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • Can You Freeze Chicken Salad? Freezing chicken salad is not recommended. However, if you decide to go for it, the salad can last in the freezer for 2-3 months; use airtight containers or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn and maintain the salad’s quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is chicken salad healthy?

Chicken salad can be a healthy addition to a well-balanced diet. Chicken breast is low in calories and high in protein. Our recipe replaces some of the mayonnaise in the Sonoma chicken recipe with Greek yogurt for a lighter dressing.

Do I have to use a rotisserie chicken?

No, rotisserie chicken is simply one of the options. Purchase canned chicken (I buy the Kirkland Brand from Costco) or prepared chicken breast found in the deli or freezer section in grocery stores. Alternatively, you can grill or boil chicken breast for the salad and either shred the chicken or cut it into small pieces, depending on your preference.

Can I boil chicken to make a chicken salad?

Boil chicken breast for California chicken salad by following these steps. Bring water to a boil in a stockpot over medium heat. Carefully add the chicken breasts to the pot, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes; the safe internal temperature for chicken is 165°F (73°C). Remove the chicken from the pot, let it cool slightly, and shred or chop it into bite-size cubes.

Can you make this recipe ahead of time?

Absolutely! Prepare a batch of California chicken salad at the beginning of the week and enjoy it for the next 2-3 days.

More Chicken Recipes:

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A bowl of California chicken salad.

California Chicken Salad

Tressa Jamil
Our crunchy and sweet California chicken salad features shredded chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans tossed in a creamy, flavorful dressing.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Chilling Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Dinner, Lunch, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 262 kcal
Ingredients
  
For the Dressing:
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt, full-fat
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, coarse ground
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt,
For the Salad:
  • ¼ cup pecans, toasted, chopped
  • 1 pound cooked chicken breast
  • 1 cup red grapes, seedless, cut in half
  • 2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
Instructions
 
  • Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a liquid measuring cup and set it aside.
  • Warm a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans, and toast them for 3 minutes. Set them aside.
  • Add the chicken, grapes, celery, scallions, and toasted pecans to a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and toss to combine. For the best results, let it chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.
Notes
Expert Tips: 
  • If you’re using boiled or grilled chicken breast, allow the chicken to cool before adding it to the salad with the dressing.
  • The salad is best served cold; refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving for the best results.
Nutrition Disclosure:
  • The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.
 
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Serving | Calories: 262 kcal | Carbohydrates: 8 g | Protein: 24 g | Fat: 15 g | Saturated Fat: 2 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g | Cholesterol: 77 mg | Sodium: 501 mg | Potassium: 394 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin C: 1 mg | Calcium: 3 mg | Iron: 3 mg
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how it turned out for you! Leave a comment below and follow @thejamilghar or tag #thejamilghar on Instagram!
5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating