Make too much chicken salad? We've all been there. Chicken salad is the perfect party dish, but it rarely all gets eaten. Out of fear of making too little, we usually make too much. So the question is raised...
Can you dependably freeze chicken salad? Or the the more important questions, is it worth it?
The short answer is yes, you can freeze chicken salad, but you should consider the consequences before taking the plunge.
Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?
There are 2 Major variables to consider...
1) Mayonnaise is an emulsion, which means that it consists of both fat and water like properties that were mixed together vigorously at the factory. When you freeze an emulsion these fat and water-like ingredients can separate.
Watery and thick sections creating a non-uniform chicken salad.
Is it worth it?
2) Crunchy vegetables like celery and chives rely on their cell walls to deliver that distinctive crunch. Freezing can likely damage these cell walls and leave you with a fraction of the crunch.
Less crunchy texture
Is it worth it?
Texture is an important variable for most of us. If that distinct crunch is a pivotal part of the dish, it's probably not worth it.
What about Other Ingredients?
The ingredient combinations in chicken salad are undoubtedly vast, but here are some of the staple ingredients and how they hold up in the freezer.
Spices typically hold up pretty well when frozen due to their low moisture content. Flavors may dull over time, but ultimately keep pretty well.
Herbs are a little more difficult to predict because they can be fresh or dried. Dried herbs will usually hold up better in the freezer due to their lower water content. Fresh herbs will experience a texture change, and flavor will noticeably dampen.
3) Dairy and Yogurt
Both of these foods have fat and water-like properties. These tend to separate when frozen and can lead to texture and flavor discrepancies. Another reason I usually discourage freezing chicken salad.
Fruits can get a little soggy when thawed. The viscous nature of chicken salad will likely hide this sogginess though, so don't worry too much about fruit.
Cooked chicken actually holds up pretty well in the freezer. Again, make sure to extract as much oxygen out of the freezer bag as possible. Oxidation can lead to some nasty off flavors, especially with poultry.
Is it Safe to Freeze Chicken Salad?
While freezing chicken salad is usually safe, there are some situations where I would avoid it altogether. If any of these situations describe yours, I would refrain from freezing your chicken salad.
1. If the chicken salad has been sitting in mild to warm temperature for over a few hours.
2. If the chicken salad is store bought and already opened.
3. If the age of the chicken or mayonnaise was questionable beforehand.
4. If the chicken salad is already exhibiting some off-flavors.
5. If you added any other perishable ingredients (look up how they handle being frozen).
6. If you, for any reason, think the chicken salad has started its inevitable decline, don't freeze it. Throw it out. It's just not worth it.
Mayonnaise is also highly perishable and as it oxidizes, will go rancid. So while it will stay good for quite some time, unappealing flavors will creep up on you. If the smell becomes bad, don't hesitate, throw it away.
How to Properly Freeze Chicken Salad
If you've looked at all the downsides and don't fall under any of the categories labeled above, here are the proper steps to freezing chicken salad.
1. Right after serving, if you don't plan on freezing immediately, put the chicken salad in an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator. (Again, if you've left the chicken salad out at room temperature for over an hour, don't bother freezing. The risk for contamination is too high).
2. Once you're ready to freeze, start scooping your chicken salad into sealable freezer bags. Fill up each freezer bag about halfway to avoid overfilling or possible leakage.
3. To avoid oxidation, Press all the air out of the bag by tightening the chicken salad and rolling the bag. Vacuum sealers work well here, but hand pressing will suffice. The more oxygen left in the bag, the more rapid the mayonnaise will go rancid. So an air tight seal is critical here.
4. Seal it, date it, and place it in the freezer where it will have ample room to expand if necessary.
5. Some claim chicken salad can last for months in the freezer. I, personally, wouldn't leave it in the freezer for more than 1 month. While it may remain edible for months, the flavor and texture losses probably aren't worth your time.
How to Properly Thaw Chicken Salad
When you decide to pull your chicken salad out of the freezer, there are some key points in thawing it correctly for safe and tasty eating.
Here's how to properly thaw chicken salad.
1. Take the container/bag of chicken salad out of the freezer and IMMEDIATELY place it in the fridge. While it can be tempting to speed the process up by setting it in room temperature, this can ultimately increase the chance of contamination.
2. Thaw time will vary on the size and ingredients of the chicken salad, but a half-full freezer bag of chicken salad usually thaws out in roughly 8-10 hours. Planning ahead is key here.
3. Once thawed, it highly likely the water and fat-like components will separate forming a separate thin and thick layer. While some people will try and mix this together to try and accomplish uniformity, I recommend pulling the thin liquid out. If the texture becomes too thick, you can always add a little olive oil or salad dressing to thin it out.
What to Do Instead (Next Time)
While the downsides to freezing chicken salad can seem a lit steep, here are some options to avoid the downfalls altogether.
1) Freeze the Chicken and Implement Mayo Only When Ready to Serve
The easiest fix to the "freezing mayo" problem is to just wait until you're ready to serve before adding the mayo. The most time consuming portion of chicken salad is cooking the chicken and waiting for it to cool.
To expedite the process, cook the chicken ahead of time and freeze it afterwards. When you're ready to serve the chicken salad, take the chicken out ahead of time and start prepping.
This is always the best case scenario. But usually when we're asking the "can you freeze chicken salad" question, we've already made it. This is purely for future reference.
2) Make a Non-Mayo Chicken Salad
Here are some non-mayo chicken salad recipes that received the most positive feedback...
a) Avocado Based
b) Yogurt-Based (will somewhat separate when frozen as well. Not nearly as bad as mayonnaise though)
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Freeze Costco Chicken Salad?
Costco usually sells several sizes of chicken salad. The large tub is enough for a small family to eat for a week, so be mindful. Like any store bought chicken salad, you can freeze it. Just don't expect the flavor to be the same when you take it out. The mayo will separate and create some undesirable texture and flavor changes.
Again, if you've left the chicken salad at room temperature for any extended period of time, don't freeze it. Throw it out.
Can You Freeze Sam's Club Chicken Salad?
Again yes, but the ultimate loss in texture and flavor may not be worth it. Read the section on mayonnaise and crunchy vegetables above.
How Long Can you Keep Homemade Chicken Salad in the Fridge?
It's very important that you throw away the chicken salad if its been sitting out in room temperature for over 1-2 hours. If not, the chicken salad should hold up for 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Always look for an expiration date. You can also do a visual and smell test before committing.
Can You Freeze Rotisserie Chicken Salad?
Yes, but it's always better to freeze the cooked rotisserie chicken and add it to the chicken salad ingredients as you see fit. One rotisserie chicken can make a lot of chicken salad. Potentially too much for the occassion.
How Long Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?
People say that chicken salad can stay safe for several months. It may be able to last even longer. But the loss in quality past the one month mark is debatably not worth it. I suggest throwing out your chicken salad after one month in the freezer
Chicken salad is a staple party dish, and thus we are notorious for making too much of it. I wish I had better news for you in regards to how this food holds up in the freezer. If you made too much, don't worry too much about it. You can always make another batch when the cravings kick back in.
Founder of Robust Kitchen