The best gluten free chicken salad recipe begins with perfectly cooked chicken. Poaching the chicken breasts ensures juicy and flavorful white meat.
Then we add a flavor packed dressing of mayonnaise, dijon mustard and our secret weapon... pickle juice! It adds moisture, salt, acid, garlic and herbs.. all the flavor!
This classic chicken salad is the perfect base for whatever you want to mix-in for added taste and texture. I love adding celery, green onions, pecans and dried cranberries.
It's a healthy, easy, high protein meal that you'll want to make again and again. It's my go to summer meal whenever we are traveling, entertaining, heading to the beach or simply having a busy week. I always have the simple ingredients on hand and substitute chicken for chickpeas for my vegetarian friends!
How this recipe fits into your speciality diet
This recipe is designed to be...
- Gluten Free
- Dairy Free
- Refined Sugar Free
- Soy Free
Always be sure to check your ingredient labels if you have a food sensitivity, allergy or preference.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- chicken breasts: when you eat meat you are also consuming whatever the animal was fed or medicated with. It's good to research to know how the chicken was cared for. I aim to buy chicken that is never given antibiotics or added hormones, pasture raised, humanely raised and USDA organic. To simplify things, I've been purchasing my meat from ButcherBox for years so that I always have the highest quality meat right in my freezer. It makes meal prep super easy. You can substitute breasts for boneless chicken thighs or even the meat from a rotisserie chicken or whole baked chicken. For a vegan variation substitute chickpeas.
- pickle juice: this is the KEY ingredient that makes this recipe taste like store bought. It adds moisture, salt, acid, garlic and herbs.. all the flavor.
- mayonnaise: store bought or make your own. I try and find a clean organic mayonnaise made with cage free eggs and avocado or olive oil.
- dijon mustard: substitute with any other types of mustard or horseradish sauce.
- cold water: it's important to use COLD water and salt to poach chicken breasts so that it cooks slowly. Poaching chicken allows it to cook perfectly without losing moisture. When chicken is cooked in boiling water it becomes dry and rubbery.
- sea salt: if you are using a different type of salt refer to this salt conversion chart. If you are sensitive to salt, you may want to use less salt. However, salt is important because it enhances the juiciness of the chicken and all of the salt won't be absorbed into the chicken.
- ground black pepper: substitute with paprika, cayenne pepper or chili powder.
See the recipe card below for exact quantities.
Chicken Salad Add-Ins
There are so many different ways to get creative with this gluten-free chicken salad recipe to add texture, crunch and different flavors. My favorite additions are green onion, celery, dried cranberries and pecans.
Some other ideas:
Add crunch. walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, crisp celery or other crunchy vegetables
Add sharpness of an onion. green onion or red onion. a little goes a long way. soak in hot water for a few minutes to take some of the sharpness out.
Add sweetness. sweet apples, grapes, dried cranberries.
Add acidity. try adding a dash of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, red wine vinegar or chopped pickles.
Add some fresh herbs. dill, thyme, chives, tarragon.
How to make it
1. Poach: Poaching chicken requires low gradual heat that results in tender perfectly cooked chicken.
Stovetop: In a pot combine COLD water, chicken breasts and salt. Cook on medium heat until the water starts to come to a gentle boil (~12 minutes). Flip the chicken breasts over with tongs or a fork and cover the pot with a tight lid. Turn the heat to a low simmer. Continue to cook the chicken for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165 F. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes while the the juices settle.
Instant Pot: Combine COLD water, chicken breasts and salt. Cook on manual for 8 minutes with a 10 minute natural release before removing. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes while the the juices settle.
2. Shred: The chicken is easiest to shred while it's hot or room temperature. Shred with two forks or for a quick shred option use a hand mixer, food processor or a stand mixer (with mixing paddle attachment). You'll be amazed at how easily the stand mixer shreds the chicken!
3. Mix & Chill: Mix the shredded chicken with mayonnaise, dijon mustard, pickle juice and ground black pepper. Add in any additional toppings you like in your chicken salad. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow all the flavors to blend.
How to eat your gluten free chicken salad
CRACKERS OR CHIPS. Dip it with some gluten free crackers or potato chips!
LETTUCE WRAPS. for a low carb option wrap it up in butter lettuce, bibb lettuce, iceberg lettuce or romaine lettuce. Lettuce cups add a nice fresh crunch! Layer a few pieces together if the lettuce isn't cooperating. Or you can simply serve it over your favorite tossed salad.
GLUTEN FREE BREAD. If you like classic chicken salad sandwiches serve it in your favorite gluten-free bread with some lettuce, tomato and a pickle.
WRAP IT UP. wrap it up in a gluten free tortilla. If the tortilla is stiff (most gluten-free wraps are) spritz each side with water and microwave it for 10 seconds - it should be much easier to wrap.
What to serve with chicken salad
- Fresh fruit
- Potato chips
- Salad - I like a simple arugula salad with olive oil and lemon juice
- French fries or sweet potato fries
- Double or quadruple the recipe, it goes quick!
- Chill overnight allowing all the flavors to blend for maximum flavor
- Add even more flavor by adding aromatics you have into the pot when poaching the chicken - lemon, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, dill, rosemary, onions or garlic.
- For quick finely shredded chicken use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment
Meal Prep & Storage
- Make ahead: Delicious chicken salad is made 6-24 hours ahead of time so the flavors have time to blend. I love to make a giant batch for lunches, snacks or trips. If the chicken salad gets dry from sitting in the fridge, add a bit more pickle juice and mayonnaise when serving.
- How to store: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Freezing chicken salad is not recommended. When mayonnaise freezes it separates creating an unpleasant water substance and smell. However, you can freeze your raw or shredded chicken before adding the dressing.
Yes! Most chicken salad recipes are naturally gluten free since the most common ingredients - chicken, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, lemon juice - are typically gluten free. However, you should always check all the ingredients if you have a food sensitivity, allergy or preference.
More gluten-free meals you'll love!
I hope you love this gluten free chicken salad recipe! If you make it I’d love if you could leave a rating & connect with me on Instagram @passthesprouts!
Gluten Free Chicken Salad Recipe
- stovetop pot with lid or instant pot (a sauce pot can be used for 2-3 chicken breasts but larger pot will be needed for more)
Poached Chicken Breast
- 2 chicken breasts boneless, skinless, 3 cups shredded
- 2 cups cold water
- 3 teaspoons sea salt this may seem like a lot but only a portion ends up in the chicken, it adds lots of flavor and moisture to the chicken
- ½ cup mayonaisse
- ¼ cup pickle juice from pickle jar
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- ½ + ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Poach chicken breastsStovetop: In a pot combine COLD water, chicken breasts and salt. The water should be fully covering the chicken, if not add a bit more water. Cook on medium heat until the water starts to come to a gentle boil (~12 minutes). Flip the chicken breasts over with tongs or a fork and cover the pot with a tight lid. Turn the heat to a low simmer. Continue to cook the chicken for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165 F. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes while the the juices settle.Instant Pot: Combine COLD water, chicken breasts and salt. Cook on manual for 8 minutes with a 10 minute natural release before removing. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes while the the juices settle.
- Shred the chicken: The chicken is easiest to shred while it's hot or room temperature. Once it cools it becomes more difficult. Shred with two forks, a hand mixer or a stand mixer (with mixing paddle attachment). How chunky or fine you want your chicken salad will be determined by how much you shred it.
- Make chicken salad: Mix the shredded chicken with mayonnaise, dijon mustard, pickle juice and ground black pepper. Add in any other optional mix-ins (onion, nuts, fruit...). Chill at least an hour before serving to allow all the flavors to blend. When serving you may need to add a bit more mayonnaise and/or pickle juice to add moisture depending on how long it has been chilling. Enjoy!
- Poaching chicken requires low gradual heat that results in tender perfectly cooked chicken. Add even more flavor by adding aromatics into the pot when poaching the chicken - lemon, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, dill, rosemary, onions or garlic.
- Recommended add ins: ½ cup finely chopped celery, ¼ cup dried cranberries (no sugar added), ½ cup chopped pecans.
- Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Poaching is my favorite way to cook chicken for uses like this one. It stays so juicy and tender. I made this, split it in half, and added lots of diced pickles to my half. My other half enjoyed his too!
This chicken salad looks perfect! Love the addition of pickle juice and can’t wait to make it for lunch this weekend!
Ooh...the pickle juice put this at the top of my list for favorite ways to enjoy chicken salad....perfect for my flavor palette.
So delicious and easy. Thanks for a great recipe.
Helen at the Lazy Gastronome says
The pickle juice really added some zip to this salad. It made a fabulous sandwich!
What an easy and beautiful salad recipe! Thank you for sharing.
Ric G says
Anything pickle has no place in chicken salad (or egg, ham, or tuna salad either) which is why I don't WANT it to taste like store-bought. As a chef, I have introduced chicken salad several dufferent ways and places, and the overwhelmingly common comment is thankfulness for no pickles in it.
That being said, maybe it is different with just the juice. I do, however, agree that poaching the chicken is the way to go for most versions.
Thanks for sharing your opinion. It's true that we are just adding the pickle juice, not the pickles. The acidic herby brine simply adds some acid which ties all the chicken salad flavors together.