Looking for a quick and easy lunch idea? Try this deli-style canned chicken salad recipe with bursts of sweetness from fresh red grapes. It's made with a tangy ginger-lime mayonnaise, thinly sliced scallion greens, and crunchy toasted almonds.
Just like my best ever deli-style tuna salad and deli-style smashed egg salad recipes, this deli chicken salad recipe is best refrigerated for several hours before serving to really develop that "deli" flavor.
I'm not sure where this specific chicken salad with grapes recipe initially came from, but I pulled it from the binder of family favorite recipes my mom put together when I went off to college.
It's what I think of when I think of my ideal chicken salad — pale and creamy with sweet red grapes, a tangy dressing, and mild sharpness from the scallion greens — though I've tweaked the measurements just a bit over the years.
I love this chicken salad recipe because it's easy to keep most of the ingredients on hand to make it. The canned chicken is shelf stable, as are the almonds and ginger. I usually have limes around to make my one avocado guacamole, but you can also use the squeeze bottles of lime juice, which last a long while in the fridge.
Grapes and scallions are the only ingredients that truly need to be bought fresh, and I've always got a glass of scallions I'm regrowing on my windowsill (and you should too!).
This is actually a half batch version of the full canned chicken salad with grapes recipe I got from my mom — I find it makes the perfect amount for me to eat for lunch 3 or 4 days in a row.
If you're having guests over and want a more party-sized batch of deli chicken salad, I do recommend doubling or tripling the recipe!
🧾 Ingredient Notes
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this simple canned chicken salad recipe! See recipe card for quantities.
- Canned Chicken Breast - I find that canned chicken breast, which is packed like tuna or salmon, gives the best bite-sized pieces of chicken and is the easiest to shred for this chicken salad. If you prefer using a rotisserie chicken, that's fine too. You need about 1 cup of shredded chicken breast, without the skin.
- Mayonnaise - Full fat mayonnaise will give you the best creamy texture, but you can definitely use other types of mayo if you prefer. See substitutions below for other options!
- Lime Juice - You need about 1 tablespoon of lime juice. That's half of a large lime, or you can use the little squeeze bottles of lime juice instead.
- Ginger - I usually use ground ginger for this recipe, but if you prefer fresh ginger or the squeeze bottles of ginger those will also work.
- Grapes - Red or purple grapes, sliced in half or in quarters. You can also use green grapes or diced nectarines or peaches!
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands. If you're measuring by volume and using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Pepper - Black pepper, doesn't matter if it's freshly cracked or pre-ground.
- Scallions - You really just need the green parts of the scallion, but if you get some of the scallion whites in there that's fine too.
- Slivered Almonds - Optional, toasted. You can also use sliced almonds, but I find slivered almonds give the best textural crunch here.
Other optional ingredients for chicken salad: Dried sour cherries or craisins, diced celery, apple slices, green grapes, clementine or mandarin orange segments, minced shallot, chives, etc.
🐓 How to Use Canned Chicken Breast
If you've ever seen canned chicken breast on the shelf and wondered "What can I make with canned chicken breast?" give this chicken salad recipe a try!
Canned chicken breast is fully cooked and packed in water just like tuna or salmon. This makes it super juicy, flavorful, and fork tender, so easy to shred with just the edge of your fork. Just open the canned chicken, drain the liquid, and it's ready to use!
Of course you absolutely can use rotisserie chicken or cook up boneless, skinless chicken breast just to make this chicken salad, but canned chicken is much faster, easier, shreds better, and tastes better too.
Canned chicken is also shelf stable, so you can keep it around longer without taking up space in your fridge or freezer or worrying about it going bad.
NOTE: Make sure you buy canned chicken breast and not whole canned chicken. Whole canned chicken is a very different thing.
🔪 How to Make Canned Chicken Salad
Start by whisking together the mayonnaise, lime juice, and ginger, along with the salt and pepper.
By mixing everything together before adding the chicken, you'll get a smoother, creamier sauce without any hidden lumps of ginger!
TIP: If you're using a fresh lime, roll it back and forth on the counter pressing down hard with the heel of your hand as you do OR microwave it whole for 20-30 seconds before you cut it open. Either of these tricks will help get the lime juice flowing and it easier to squeeze.
Whisk just until the sauce is smooth and combined.
Add the chicken and mix with a fork (or two forks) to break up the chunks.
Canned chicken breast shreds really nicely. You can use one or two forks for this step to help break the pieces of chicken down into more delicate, bite-sized pieces.
If you're using rotisserie chicken or a piece of chicken you cooked yourself, cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes and then use two forks for the shredding.
Add the sliced grapes and scallions and stir to combine. Be gentle so you don't crush the grapes.
Toast the slivered almonds in a bare skillet over medium heat until lightly browned.
Stir or swirl the almonds in the pan to keep them moving so they get toasted on both sides. The almonds will stay quite pale for the first few minutes and then all of a sudden begin to brown, so don't walk away.
You can also toast the almonds before you start the recipe if you'd rather have them ready to go. Remove them from the pan once they're toasted or the residual heat from the pan will keep toasting them while they sit.
Stir the toasted slivered almonds in right before serving for maximum crunch!
There's actually no harm in adding the almonds at the same time as the grapes and scallions. (I actually really like the texture of the almonds after they've had a few hours to sit in the chicken salad and soften slightly.)
But if you want to preserve their crunchy texture, wait to add the toasted almonds right before serving.
That's it! That's how you make deli-style chicken salad. It's super fast and easy.
While you can serve this deli-style chicken salad immediately, it is infinity times better if you let it chill in the fridge first.
For best results, transfer the chicken salad to an airtight container (or cover the mixing bowl) and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours if not overnight before serving.
This cold resting period might not seem like much, but it's exactly how chicken salad is stored at an actual deli counter. It gives all the flavors time to meld and mix together and will bring that classic "deli" flavor to the table.
Storing this chicken salad cold also helps keep the grapes fresh and crisp!
📋 Storage & Food Safety Notes
On days 3 and 4 the "deli-style" flavor will be more intense as the flavors continue melding into each other.
Chicken salad should be served cold, and should not sit out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If you're serving it somewhere where it needs to be out of the fridge, make sure you are at least serving it over an ice bath or bowl of ice to keep it cool.
📖 Substitutions and Variations
There are a lot of ways you can customize this chicken salad recipe or make it your own! Here's some simple ingredient substitutions in case you don't have everything on hand.
- Instead of canned chicken breast, use shredded rotisserie chicken (remove the skin), or pan-fry and shred a large chicken breast. If you're cooking chicken from scratch, make sure you season it well with salt and pepper!
- Instead of mayonnaise, use miracle whip, plain greek yogurt, or sour cream.
- Instead of scallions, use chives or shallots.
- Instead of ground ginger, use 1 teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger root OR 1 teaspoon squeeze ginger from a tube.
- Instead of grapes, use diced nectarines or peaches. Some people even use apples or pears in their chicken salad recipes!
👩🏻🍳 Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- I like to slice the grapes lengthwise, it helps keep them from bursting or getting mushy when you stir them into the chicken salad. You can also cut them into quarters if you prefer.
- To really amp up the lime flavor, zest a quarter of the lime into the mayo before you cut it open to juice it.
- I store my chicken salad in 16 ounce deli containers. This recipe makes just about 16 ounces, so one container is perfect here.
- If you want to use fresh ginger, store it in the freezer, it will stay good for a long time and you can grate it into the chicken salad with a zester right from frozen.
🥗 How to Serve Chicken Salad
If you're just making this chicken salad with grapes for yourself, you can spoon it right out of the container, no judgement here.
If you're serving this chicken salad to guests, I recommend garnishing it with more scallions and toasted almonds right before serving.
Here are some other ways you can eat this chicken salad:
- Sandwiches - This chicken salad goes great with soft ciabatta, slices of toasted no knead crusty bread, buttery bakery style croissants, and so much more. Serve it with a crisp piece of fresh lettuce, quick pickled red onions, etc. It's got so much flavor you don't need to add much to make the sandwich feel complete!
- Plain - Honestly, this chicken salad is so good I often eat it by the forkful right out of the container. If you have guests, don't do this, but my point is that it's good enough to put on the table with some other lunchy options and let people eat it on its own!
- Lettuce Cups - Scoop spoonfuls of chicken salad into butter or bibb lettuce leaves for individual servings, or scoop the entire container onto a bed of leafy lettuce greens to serve buffet or family style.
- Crackers - This canned chicken salad is so good with crunchy Triscuits, buttery Ritz, or Club crackers, or any of those fancy crackers you get in the variety party packs.
Easy Deli-Style Chicken Salad with Mayo & Grapes
- 12.5 ounce canned chicken breast (1 cup, drained)
- ¼ cup mayonnaise (54 grams)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice (juice from half a lime)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 10 red grapes (halved or quartered)
- ⅛ cup thinly sliced scallions
- ⅛ cup slivered almonds (toasted)
- Whisk together mayonnaise, lime juice, ginger, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add chicken breast and use a fork to mix everything together, shredding the chicken cubes in the process.
- Stir in sliced grapes and scallion greens.
- Toast slivered almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes. Stir frequently and do not wander away — they go from pale to toasted very quickly!
- Stir slivered almonds into the chicken salad, then transfer chicken salad to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving. For crunchier almonds, wait to stir them in right before serving.
- Instead of grapes, diced nectarines or peaches will also work. Dried sour cherries are also a good swap!
- 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ginger paste can be used in place of the ground ginger.