When I was a kid, there were a few dishes I would repeatedly order when my family went out to dinner. It was a room service chicken salad croissant at The Breaker’s Hotel in Palm Beach that started my obsession with this sandwich.
My dad was a chiropractor in Central Florida. Lucky us, because though I was just plain proud to be the daughter to someone who helped so many people, the annual series of chiropractic seminars he was required by law to attend was held for several years at The Breakers. Fortunately for my sister and me, my parents saw fit to drag their kids along on this hotel discounted yearly weekend away, rather than taking the time for themselves. That meant that while Dad sat through endless hours of seminars, albeit in gorgeously appointed baroque ballrooms, my mother and sister and I pranced around the grounds and nearby Worth Avenue getting some girly, city time away from our mostly swamp, rural home in East Orlando. Every minute was a well-appreciated splurge.
I’m certain we were the only guests who viewed one of the highlights of a trip to The Breakers the behind the scenes “tour” we would give ourselves to the top of the Italianate hotel. I don’t even know if we were allowed up there, but we kids would ascend the shadowy staircase behind my mother to the top of either of the open-air twin towers that crowned the rooftop, after taking the elevator as high as it would go, for one of the most spectacular views in all of Florida.
It was the time of year when we pulled out, or bought if my sister and I had gone through a rapid growth spurt, our best clothes, sometimes including a “fancy” dress for dinner in The Florentine Dining Room. It helped that we attended private school and Sunday services back home, so already had halfway decent daily wear. We’d pack our best set of “casual resort wear” for Sunday brunch in The Circle. I’m 100% convinced that my love (need) for a sun room in my own home came from early mornings in this, the most elegant, sunny place there is to dine.
The chicken salad. At The Breakers, you could order it in the 50’s glam, poolside restaurant, or from room service. It consisted only of mayonnaise -lots of it- chicken breast chunks, coarse black pepper, and celery on a fabulous, fresh croissant. Yes, I was a child foodie. These ingredients mattered to me almost as much as the chocolate malt we would enjoy at the hotel’s original soda fountain. It’s still my favorite way to eat chicken salad.
A close second is chicken salad with lots of apples, nuts, raisins, and celery. Sometimes I swap the raisins for dried cranberries or cherries. Or I end up using walnuts, almonds, or pecans. Other times I add grapes in addition to the dried fruit. In the old days, the annual batch I would make the week we apple picked would be overloaded with mayonnaise.
Here is my new, lighter, but even tastier, version. The pure maple syrup is my favorite change. I still include a little olive oil based mayonnaise in the dressing, but I’m looking forward to being able to serve this heart-healthier dish to my family more often than the old, heavy recipe. I’d love to be able to scoop it onto halves of freshly risen and baked croissants, but that would defeat the purpose of creating a lighter chicken salad. Oak leaf and baby romaine lettuces, harvested from my fall garden, made a beautiful, nutritious accompaniment.
4 c. cooked chicken breast, large dice
3 c. apples. I used Golden Delicious and Rome.
3 oz. organic raisins
2/3 c. coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 c. medium dice celery
1/2 c. olive oil mayonnaise
1 tsp. pure, organic maple syrup
2 tsp. raw, organic apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1/2 c. milk
Combine the chicken, nuts, apples, raisins, and celery in a large bowl.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients.
Mix the dressing into the salad ingredients.
Yield: 8 to 16 servings
Note: This was much better the next day after the flavors had combined. The apples stayed crisp and fresh in the vinegar dressing, and didn’t brown.