Herbs are the best thing about my garden. Lilac and sage, lemon thyme and basil, tarragon and dill. They greet me every morning with their cheery fragrance. French tarragon—with its curly roots, narrow green leaves and anise-like scent—is a favorite. It adds lovely flavor to this classic chicken salad. To make it, I grill chicken breasts and thighs that have marinated in garlic and herbs, whip up homemade tarragon mayonnaise, and mix all together with red grapes, toasted pecans, celery, and a bit of red onion. It’s great served in lettuce cups or as a sandwich filling.
FOR THE TARRAGON MAYONNAISE
• 1 . cup sunflower oil
(or substitute vegetable oil)
• 2 cups fresh tarragon leaves whole, plus 2 Tbsp minced
• 1 large egg at room temperature
• 1 tsp good quality Dijon mustard
• 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar (aged is fine)
• 1 tsp superfine sugar
• Salt and finely ground pepper to taste
FOR THE CHICKEN
• 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
• 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 2 tsp each salt and fresh cracked pepper
• 2 Tbsp each fresh tarragon leaves, thyme leaves, parsley leaves, minced
• 3 cloves minced garlic
• Juice of . fresh lemon
• Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
FOR THE SALAD
• 3 ribs celery, finely diced to make 1 cup
• . small red onion, finely diced
• 1 cup halved seedless red grapes
• . cup chopped toasted pecans
• 1 head butter lettuce
• 2 Tbsp very finely minced tarragon leaves
• 1 cup Tarragon mayonnaise (save 2 Tbsp to spread on sandwich bread)
• Salt and pepper to taste
TARRAGON CHICKEN SALAD
MAKE TARRAGON MAYONNAISE:
Blend sunflower oil with 2 cups of tarragon leaves until very smooth. Place in small pan over medium heat. Heat for one minute. Pour oil and herbs into a fine mesh strainer over a small pitcher. Set aside to cool. Discard tarragon leaves from the strainer. In the bowl of a food processor, combine mustard with egg and remaining 2 Tbsp of minced tarragon leaves until smooth. With motor running, add the herbed tarragon oil in a slow, steady trickle to the egg and mustard until the mixture whips up into mayonnaise. Stir in sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove mayonnaise to a bowl and refrigerate.
Rub salt and pepper into the chicken thighs and breasts. Allow to rest while you mince the herb leaves and garlic. Massage herbs and garlic into the poultry— adding the lemon juice, grated lemon zest, and olive oil. Set aside to marinate for at least 1/2 hour while you chop the vegetables for the salad. Grill chicken and set aside to cool enough to handle. Chop grilled chicken into small pieces. Set aside.
Combine diced celery, onion, grapes, pecans, and minced tarragon leaves with the diced chicken and tarragon mayonnaise. (Reserve 2 Tbsp of the mayonnaise to thinly spread on bread if you are making sandwiches with the salad.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve salad spooned into lettuce cups, or layer butter lettuce on bread, croissants, or baguettes and top with the chicken salad.