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After Work: The Perfect Chicken Salad Sandwich

...An old joke goes about a man complaining about his meal, “The food was bad and there was not much of it.”

What I’d say about coffee shop chicken salad sandwiches has slightly different twist: There is too much of it. To my taste, sandwiches shouldn’t be overstuffed...

Dona Gibbs's mission is to find the perfect chicken salad sandwich.

To read more of Dona's mouth-watering columns please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

I’m in search of the perfect coffee shop chicken salad sandwich.

For me, the perfect chicken salad sandwich starts with the chicken. Both white and dark meat should be used. The dark meat has more chicken flavor and is moister. Definitely, finely diced celery is needed and a tiny bit of minced onion. A little daring teaspoon of chopped sweet pickle would be welcome. Salt and pepper and a dollop of mayonnaise to bind it are a must. Spread on lightly buttered toast and I’ll be a frequent customer.

Alas, the perfect sandwich only exists in the nostalgia of childhood. I remember loving Disney’s feature length cartoons but I equally relished the chicken salad sandwich at a local corner coffee shop. My mother and I would share one of the thick chocolate milkshakes made with real milk and real ice cream. No powered cartons dumped into a machine back then.

With the promise of a chicken salad sandwich and half a milkshake I’d even willingly make the rounds of Belk’s and Thalheimers – the two main department stores of our small Southern tobacco town. I might even be talked into trying on a “cute little dress.”

What’s wrong with coffee store chicken salad? Let’s start with the primary ingredient—the chicken. The perfect dice of white meat gives it away as mass-produced. The only additional ingredient is celery. While you expect mayonnaise to be bland, the glop that holds it all together is tasteless.

I have a suspicion that most of the salads come from a food supplier. They’re dropped off round back several times a week in large white buckets. Why else would almost every coffee shop have the same style chicken salad?

Maybe I’ll have to do some investigative reporting and break this story wide open.

An old joke goes about a man complaining about his meal, “The food was bad and there was not much of it.”

What I’d say about coffee shop chicken salad sandwiches has slightly different twist: There is too much of it. To my taste, sandwiches shouldn’t be overstuffed.

It’s no secret that in the United States portions in restaurants have grown. And along with that phenomenon, so have waistlines. The North American Association for the Study of Obesity has commissioned all kind of studies showing that The Clean Plate Club of childhood years should be disbanded.

Studies show that people will eat more if the portions are larger, say 377 grams, than they would if served a smaller portion, 248 grams. Having little willpower myself, this finding comes as no surprise.

Chefs were interviewed in a 2007 study. Over three-quarters of them thought the portion size they dished up was “regular.” The researchers discovered the chefs were serving two to four times the size recommended by the U.S. government.

The chefs, naturally, thought that consumption was the customers’ responsibility. “The-I-didn’t-make-them-eat-it-all defense” is justified, I think.

Surfing the web I found a site with all kinds of information about the size and calorie content of items from popular casual dining and fast food chains. One listed a sandwich, not chicken salad, mind you, but something called a Manhattan Club. This behemoth weighed in at over a pound. A 5’7”, 144-pound woman would have to spend either 309 minutes walking, 127 minutes jogging, 93 minutes swimming or 170 minutes cycling to burn off the calories, the site said.

Whew! I’ll have the small salad, please, hold the dressing.

We’re a bountiful country. Generous, too, when it doesn’t cost us much. Figures show that the costs of getting the food on the customers’ plates exceed the expenditures for the food itself.

Since the 1970s, those breakfast favorites, bagels and muffins, have swelled as much as four times their size. Lunchtime standards of fries, sodas and hamburgers are two to five times as big as they used to be. That’s not to say that they were ever healthy.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband and I have been on the receiving end of this misplaced generosity. Here in Florida’s casual dining restaurants the portions exceed the definition of generous. They’re more in the category of “Serves four to six people.”

The smiling waiter in the neighborhood Italian restaurant smiled more broadly when we asked if we could have small portions at the same price. We were both brought up to be members of The Clean Plate Club but we’ve changed to a “Less is more” policy.

“No,” he explained it was the owner’s policy. And, “ Most people expect big portions. They take home what they can’t eat.

Perhaps I’m in the minority but I don’t want a doggy bag. We have no dog and I have no interest in leftovers --not even if they’re packaged in an aluminum foil swan. For me, one of the delights of eating out is not having to deal with leftovers. Dabs of this and that in plastic lurking in the refrigerator admonish me for poor planning.

So where does this too-muchness fit in with the quest for the perfect chicken salad sandwich?

Well, it seems that there’s a standard portion for this too: six ounces. For me that’s about three ounces too much.


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