Sweet, savory, and crisp chicken salad – perfect for Autumn. Tender chicken breast coated in a flavorful dressing, sweetened with flecks of crunchy pecan, crisp apple, and tart dried cranberries. This cranberry pecan apple chicken salad tastes like something you would order at a bistro, but lightened-up.
All about this cranberry pecan apple chicken salad
I love a good chicken salad! It’s the perfect meal prep for lunch – it’s quick to assemble, requires minimal cooking and time in the kitchen, it doesn’t need to be reheated before eating, and it lasts really well in the fridge. It’s also super versatile. If one day you feel like having a sandwich, go right ahead – another day maybe you’re more in the mood for crackers and a veggie platter, that works perfectly too!
I have tons of other chicken salad recipes – some of my favorites are the following:
BLT Chicken Salad (this is my most popular recipe ever!)
Thai Chicken Salad (this one doesn’t call for mayo!)
For this recipe, I was really inspired by the flavors of fall. I love a good crunch and textural element in my chicken salads, and I love the balance of sweet and savory that this salad offers. The pecans and cranberries scattered throughout this salad are like little jewels of yumminess, and finding a little bit of apple in each bite gives you that sweetness and crunch you’re craving.
The addition of these ingredients also provides some sweetness without any sugar or honey, keeping the WW points and calorie count lower.
How I make chicken salad lower calorie and lower point
It took me trial and error to figure out how to lighten up chicken salad without making it super dry and boring. Chicken salad should be moist and creamy, and usually that requires a ton of mayo! A lot of lightened-up chicken salad recipes call for yogurt in place of mayo, which I can appreciate. But mentally I couldn’t get over the fact that the salad was primarily yogurt. I just felt like I was tasting that yogurt tang.
Over time I have realized that a 1:1 ratio of light mayo and Greek yogurt provides the perfect base for chicken salad! The yogurt just kind of helps stretch the mayo, without changing the flavor whatsoever.
These are the brands of yogurt and mayo I swear by:
The other elements of a good chicken salad
Ok – so we’ve got the dressing covered, now let’s talk about what else chicken salad needs:
The flavor part is relatively easy: add some spices and a splash of vinegar to your dressing to give it that extra pop of flavor. Here, I use red wine vinegar for some good acidic flavor, and for spices, I use celery seed (a classic chicken salad flavoring) and kosher salt.
I also love the addition of diced raw white onion for an extra kick of flavor, without being overpowering. For texture, I add chopped pecans for crunch, diced honeycrisp apple (with the skin) for crispness, and dried cranberries for that tart sweetness and chewy texture.
Making cranberry apple pecan chicken salad
Poaching the chicken
I’ve included step-by-step instructions on the recipe card below for how to poach chicken.
I have been poaching my chicken for chicken salads for a while now. Not only is it SUPER easy, but the chicken comes out super moist.
As always, for any of my recipes that call for poached chicken, you can use a cooked rotisserie chicken, you can use canned chicken, or you can roast your own chicken. Whatever is easiest for you, or whichever method you prefer!
I personally like poaching chicken because I use six chicken breasts for my chicken salad recipes (one breast per serving), and making my own cooked chicken breast is much more budget-friendly than buying three rotisserie chickens.
When you’re poaching chicken, you can add any flavor you want to your pot. For example, when I make my Thai chicken salad, I use ground ginger and lime in the water. For this recipe, I kept it simple with some dried bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt. This is the basic recipe I use for most of my chicken salads, since it can work with most flavor profiles.
Another key piece of advice is to invest in a meat thermometer. I use this one from OXO. It is a lifesaver in the kitchen! This is the best way to tell when you’re chicken is done.
Note: if you skip the poaching chicken step, you can use fully cooked chicken breast in place (six cups, or 4 cooked chicken breast).
Putting it all together
Once the chicken is cooked, (or if you are using cooked chicken), the rest of this recipe is so easy to throw together, no cooking required. Simply combine the yogurt and the mayo together in a large mixing bowl, add your vinegar and seasonings, and then add your other ingredients: chopped onion, chopped celery, the cooked chicken, diced apple, cranberries, and pecans. That’s it!
Cranberry Apple Pecan Chicken Salad: for meal prep
As always, this chicken salad was part of my weekly meal prep. Each serving is one heaping cup (that’s a VERY generous portion of chicken salad!). I store mine in these meal prep containers from Ello – since they’re glass, I typically don’t have any issues with food spoiling. I swear it’s the glass!
You can also store this in in a large mixing bowl, covered, in the fridge, and portion out your servings as you go throughout the week.
Cranberry Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
- large pot
- mixing bowl
Poached Chicken - you can omit these ingredients and use 6 cups of cooked chicken breast
- 3 lbs chicken breast, raw, boneless, skinless
- 2 bay leaves, dried
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light mayo
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
- 1/2 honeycrisp apple, diced
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup white onion, chopped
- You can skip this entire step and use 6 cups of cooked chicken breast (about 4 chicken breasts).
- Place the chicken breasts in a large stock pot. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. Cover with water.
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a low boil or simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F.
- Set the chicken aside on a cutting board and chop or shred.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayo, yogurt, celery seed, salt, pepper, and vinegar.
- Add the chopped chicken and toss to coat, ensure every piece of chicken is coated.
- Add in the chopped celery, chopped onion, cranberries, pecans, and diced apple, and fold in to combine.
- 6 WW points (green plan)
- 4 WW points (blue and purple plans)
Other yummy chicken salads: