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Classic Jewish Deli Chicken Salad

Classic Jewish Deli Chicken Salad

Our Jewish ancestors who came from poor regions of Eastern Europe and Russia always had to be creative to feed their families. For Shabbat, when it was important to Hiddur Mitzvah, to elevate the food and the table to make it special for the Sabbath, it was doubly important to make the most of the food since the ingredients were often more expensive ingredients than those used during the rest of the week. A great example of this is the use of chicken on Shabbat. Every part of the chicken needed to be used to provide nutrition for the family. As a matter of fact, the classic Shabbat meal was a result of our ancestors’ resourcefulness. From one chicken you got the soup, the fat from the soup which was spread on the challah, the skin of the chicken which was stuffed (a dish called Helzel), and the liver which, of course, was chopped. And let's not forget the chicken, which was eaten!

When immigrants came to this country they still made chicken soup for Shabbat and holidays but they often had a beef or veal dish as the main course. Then, in 1905 Richard Hellmann, an immigrant from Germany, opened a deli on the upper west side of New York City. His wife Nina created a special mayonnaise sauce that he used in salads and on sandwiches. This sauce became so popular that Hellman began selling it as Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Best mayonnaise. The rest is history and New York Style Delis all over the country wouldn’t think of using anything but Hellmann’s in their cooking; especially in chicken salad! And THE BEST chicken salad is made from the chicken cooked in the soup!

  • Duration
  • Prep Time
  • 8-10Servings


  • 1 cut up whole chicken, cooked (preferably stewed for soup)
  • 1 1/4 cups finely diced celery
  • 3 or more carrots
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion or more to your taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2-1 cup of Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • 1 can jellied cranberry sauce (optional)


1. Skin the chicken and pull the meat off the bones. This is easy to do if the chicken is warm.

2. Shred the chicken with your fingers to make sure no bone is present. Place chicken in a 3 quart bowl.

3. Dice the celery and add it to the chicken.

4. Peel the carrots, cut off the tip, and, holding on to the big end, grate them into the bowl with the chicken and the celery. Discard top of the carrot.

5. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a fork or spoon until well blended and moistened.  Use as much of the mayonnaise, or more, to create the texture you want.  

6. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tip: For a fun and decorative way to serve the chicken salad, line a 2 quart bowl with plastic wrap and spoon the chicken mixture into it.  Press down firmly on the chicken so that it will mold. Meanwhile, slice the cranberry sauce into 1/2 inch slices.  Using a small cookie cutter or sharp knife, make designs in the sauce slices.

To serve:  Turn bowl with chicken salad upside down onto a serving plate.  Remove bowl and wrap and, using a small spreader or the back of a spoon, coat with a thin layer of mayonnaise.  Decorate the top and sides of the chicken salad with the cranberry sauce cutouts and serve with crackers or rolls.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • This is a perfect recipe to make with children over the weekend after the Shabbat soup is cooked and you have that great chicken left over!
  •  Reheat the chicken in the microwave just long enough to warm the chicken.  It shouldn’t be hot.  Warmed, the skin will slide off easily and the meat will separate from the bone with little effort.
  • When spooning mayonnaise from the jar and adding it to the chicken, do not touch the chicken with that spoon and then put it back in the jar.  The bacteria from the chicken will grow in the jar and future use could make someone ill.
  •  If children are little or if you only have one of those metal boxes with grates on each side, opt for using the grating disk on a processor to save little knuckles from getting bruised.
  •  Plastic grating plates or Microplane or OXO graters are my choice of safe utensil for children to use

Kitchen Conversations:

  • Ask a child how many different ways could they make chicken?  This could lead to exploring recipes from other countries (tacos, croquettes etc.) that they can make with you at another time.
  • Discuss what shapes would be seasonally appropriate for your cranberry cutouts.  Little leaves and acorns for fall, snowflakes or snowmen for winter, flowers for spring, Jewish stars and shofars for Rosh Hashanah…the choices are endless.

Source: Entree to Judaism For Families

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