Chicken Salad with Olive Oil & Herbs

chicken salad with olive oil and herbs

The quantity of herbs heaped onto nearly every dish at every Vietnamese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. And this time of year, I crave nothing more than eating this kind of food: fresh, light, fragrant. Summer rolls lined with mint, green papaya salad speckled with Thai basil, chicken salad loaded with scallions and cilantro — oh Nam Phuong! You feel so far away.

The chicken salad pictured here is made with a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar — no fish sauce, no lime juice — but it very much resembles what I love about a Vietnamese chicken salad: big, plump pieces of chicken, lots of herbs, a nice bite in the dressing. If you can get your hands on Thai basil, it’s particularly good in this salad, but if you can’t, a mix of tarragon and basil offers a similar flavor.

This is another nice no-mayo salad to serve at a summer gathering or to bring to a potluck. I love a classic chicken salad, but I love the lightness of this one, too. And there’s only one thing to keep in mind while making it: less is not more. Don’t be afraid to heap on those herbs.


red onion in vinegar


chicken poaching

chicken, pulled

herbs added

red onions added

tossed with herbs

chicken salad with olive oil and herbs

chicken salad with olive oil and herbs

Chicken Salad with Olive Oil & Herbs

I've given instructions below for how I learned to poach a chicken at the restaurant, which is how I now always poach a chicken: place chicken in a pot; cover with cold water; partially cover pot and bring to a boil; turn off the heat; let chicken finish cooking while it cools completely in the liquid. This takes a few hours. If you do this method, it is imperative that you let the chicken cool completely in the liquid before removing it otherwise it won't be cooked. I like to do this at night — I stick the whole, cooled pot in the fridge (it's always a challenge finding space), and then pull the chicken from the bone in the morning. You can, of course, do this first thing in the morning, too.

Also, if you are pressed for time, just simmer your chicken until it's done. What I love about the bring-the-water-to-a-boil-and-shut-it-off method is that the chicken never over cooks — it is plump and moist and juicy.

I should note that when you begin pulling the chicken from the bone, the meat might look pink, which will make you think it is not cooked, but it is — the red spots/blood vessels (this is a guess?) sometimes spread into the meat giving it a pinkish hue. If you are nervous, just plunge the pulled meat into a pot of boiling water for a second and drain it, but I can almost assure you your chicken will be cooked if you allow it to cool completely in its cooking liquid.


  • 1 small chicken (about 3 lbs. if you can find one)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons white balsamic (or other) vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • 3 to 4 scallions
  • a ton of herbs: basil, tarragon, cilantro, Thai basil, mint
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 or 2 more tablespoons
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes or a mince hot chili (optional)


  1. Place chicken in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Partially cover, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Let chicken cool completely in liquid. This takes a few hours. (Alternatively, simmer chicken until it's done.)
  2. When ready to make the salad, thinly slice the onion and place in a bowl. Cover with two tablespoons of vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile pull chicken from bones and place in a large mixing bowl. Slice the scallions somewhat thinly (or not) and add to the bowl. Give the herbs a rough chop and add to the bowl. Add the macerated red onions and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Add pepper flakes or chili to taste.
  4. Use your hands to toss everything together. Take a taste. If necessary add another tablespoon of vinegar and olive oil. Add more salt if necessary. Toss again and taste until seasoning is right. Serve.


  1. Julia says

    This recipe will be perfect for when my mom comes for a visit! Hubby is a super plain/picky eater and would die if I made this. My mom however is more adventurous and loves the whole minimal-cooking-in-the-summer method! Thanks for a fun idea to experiment with!

    I’m thinking this would pair perfectly with the light brioche bun recipe you have too!

    • says

      Oh Julia, I hope you and your mom like this! My mother loves this one, but she tends to like everything “light light” so it makes sense. And yes: brioch + anything = bliss :)

      Hope you are well!

  2. says

    Such a great combination of herbs, delicious! And I love the super-simple dressing. And the super-simple poached chicken! Man, I should follow your directions more carefully… I think you described poaching thighs for chicken tinga just about the same, but I overcooked mine and they were dry. I didn’t trust the method! I should have! Especially ’cause it’s almost no work.

    I can’t help but think that some toasted rice powder (even though that’s Thai) would bring a nice nuttiness to this situation. Perfect for summer!

    • says

      Thank you, Sophie! I have never used toasted rice powder but I saw a recipe for larb that called for it, and I was totally intrigued. Must try that!

  3. Liz says

    I made this guests visiting for lunch–I hate making lunch!–but now I feel as if I have a new staple that is really elegant and yet familiar so fussy eaters will love it too. Your method of cooking the chicken is excellent. My chicken was a small one–3 pounds–and it had a perfect texture and moisture. Everyone loved the herbs–much lighter and less caloric than chicken salad with mayonnaise.

  4. Kate says

    Thanks for this delicious recipe! I’ve been eating it for lunch this week after we had it for dinner. This was a big hit with my husband who loves any excuse to pile on the sriracha. I actually just poached/fried a package of chicken tenders with some herbs instead of doing the whole chicken so I wouldn’t waste all the chicken meat like I usually do with a whole chicken. Less mess too :)

    • says

      Kate, your husband sounds like mine :) He took leftovers to work, which he doctored with sriracha — it’s normal that he keeps a bottle of sriracha at work, right? So happy you liked this. And love the idea of using tenders. Yum!

  5. says

    I am an herb FANATIC! One of the things that I love most about the summer is the abundance of fresh herbs. They really transform any dish to the next level. This looks so delicious- I want to dive right in!

  6. Lisa See says

    I made this last night using a “ton”flat leaf and curly parsley, basil,tarragon, and mint. I was tempted to throw a bit of lemon balm in but held off thinking I’ll try it next time. My intentions were to have it for lunch but after realizing that the vinegar would do it’s thing on the herbs, it became supper. My husband & I loved it… BUT, the red onion!! It really did a number on us.

    The cooking of the whole chicken as suggested is spot on. It’s my new go to method. I like that it uses minimal energy on the cooker as well as utilizing the liquid base for broth with the chicken carcass. (If roasting a bird, we always save our bones and freeze them until we are making a batch of broth.) Nothing wasted. Brilliant!!

    What a fantastic recipe. Thank you for sharing it.

    • says

      Wonderful to hear this, Lisa! So happy the cooking method worked out for you. I need to note in the recipe that the cooking liquid should be saved and made into stock with the remaining carcass — I love using the whole bird, too. All of your herbs sound amazing — that’s what I love about this salad. Now, for the red onion — was it too much?

  7. alli says

    Seems like a chicken “ceviche.” I bet it’d be great with lime juice, too. I’m going to bring it to my SO’s next family picnic (the family is Peruvian). I bet they’ll love it!

    • says

      Yes, totally! I love that description. A little lime would be amazing in this, and I’m dying to get down the proportions of a good Vietnamese chix salad, one that’s not overpowered by fish sauce.

  8. Hina says

    This sounds so delicious!!! We’re fasting these days so I’m wondering if this would be a good thing to make to break my fast with. Also, how would you eat leftovers of this? Cold from the fridge or slightly warmed in the microwave?

    • says

      Hi Hina! Sorry for the delay here — I’ve been away for a week with the kiddos and I’m just catching up. I tend to eat this cold straight from the fridge, but slightly warm or even wrapped in a tortilla sounds delicious.

  9. Christine says

    Wonderful light salad! Love everything about it. I am, however, confused about cooking the chicken. In the grey box it says “partially cover pot and bring to a boil”. Then the instructions list “Partially cover, bring to a simmer”. Could you please clarify? Boil or simmer? Sorry, I’m not a very instinctual cook and tend to “cling” to recipes. Can’t wait to make this!

  10. Sarah says

    Question: Should the pot be covered/uncovered/partially covered while the bird is cooking in the cooling water? I’m intrigued by this low-maintenance method of cooking a chicken in this summer heat.

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