If you have too much chicken salad leftover, or are wondering if you can make chicken salad ahead and freeze it for easy meals, then read on to learn more about freezing chicken salad successfully and safely to keep it at best quality for between one and three months.
There are various options available for freezing chicken salad and both how the salad is made and what it contains will affect how well it freezes and thaws. Choices include just freezing the cooked and seasoned chicken and then making fresh chicken salad once the chicken is thawed, or to make and freeze a basic salad without greens or any other veggies that may lose texture, or you can also make a full salad using salad dressing or mayonnaise substitute as a way to prevent separation.
So, to answer the question, can you freeze chicken salad? The answer is yes, you can freeze chicken salad depending on how it is made as there can be problems with mayonnaise separating, vegetables turning mushy and more. Therefore, not all chicken salads are suitable for freezing. Also note that the longer chicken salad in kept in the freezer, the more its quality and texture will decline.
The Problem with Freezing Chicken Salad Made with Mayonnaise
Mayonnaise is one of the main reasons a chicken salad will often not freeze and thaw well. Mayonnaise an emulsion which means it is made from two liquids that would otherwise not bind together unless an emulsifier is used. In the case of mayonnaise, the two liquids are oil and vinegar and egg yolk acts as the emulsifier to bind the two together.
When mayonnaise is frozen the chemical bonds between the liquids are broken which means that as it thaws, the mayonnaise separates, making it look curdled. The same happens with yogurt-based salad dressings.
As mayonnaise contains a high amount of fat, it can also start to turn rancid, even when frozen, unless all of the air is removed from the bag, such as with a good quality vacuum sealer.
Is there a way to resolve the mayonnaise problem?
Yes, you can make chicken salad differently for freezing to reduce the chance of the dressing separating when thawing. First, consider making a dressing that only contains a little mayonnaise or yogurt as this reduces the risk of it separating during freezing and thawing. Dressings made with olive oil, avocado, mustard or pesto will usually behave better in the freezer than mayonnaise or yogurt dressings.
Mayonnaise substitutes or sandwich spreads also freeze better than regular mayonnaise as even though they contain oil, vinegar and egg yolk, the oil content is much less than the 65% minimum oil content found in mayonnaise.
Also be aware that if you do still want to freeze mayonnaise, store bought is usually a better choice than homemade mayonnaise as store bought is always pasteurized and if you do choose mayonnaise - just use a little – it’s easy enough to add more after thawing.
The Problem with Freezing Vegetables and Fruits in Chicken Salad
The second problem when freezing chicken salad is what vegetables and fruits it has been made with. Many foods such as salad greens, cucumber, fresh tomato, orange, watermelon, radish, raw potato, celery, grape, bell peppers and even apple can be a big no-no when freezing chicken salad.
This is because these all contain a lot of water. When foods with a high water content are frozen the water expands as it freezes, causing the cell walls of the vegetable or fruit to rupture. Once the food is then thawed, it ends up with a different texture – often mushy – as the cell walls are no longer providing any structure to the food. This is the reason why many raw fruits and vegetables are best used for cooking or baking with if they have been frozen raw as the texture change is rarely noticed once cooked.
Although the fruits and vegetables listed here should still be safe to eat after freezing and thawing, the change in texture and sometimes flavor can make them especially unappetizing.
The Best Way to Make Chicken Salad for Freezing
Option 1: Freeze the Cooked Chicken
Cooking the chicken for chicken salad takes the most time, so instead you could just freeze the cooked chicken and make your salad up later. To do this, allow your fresh cooked chicken to chill properly in the refrigerator then chop it and portion it out into airtight containers or food bags.
Chicken is prone to freezer burn so try to remove as much excess air as you can before sealing the bag. If you use a container, then a layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil over the top of the chicken before you add the container lid will help stop as much air getting to the chicken. Remember to make a note of the date on the bag or container with a sharpie.
For using in chicken salad, it is safer to thaw cooked chicken in the refrigerator overnight before using.
Option 2: Make Chicken Salad Without Vegetables or Fruits
If you want to do make-ahead chicken salad, this is the ideal way to do it. Prepare your seasoned chicken and add the dressing. As we discussed above, it is also better to use a dressing with low mayonnaise or yogurt content as this will reduced separation of the dressing once thawed.
This can then be frozen in airtight containers or food bags.
After thawing in the refrigerator overnight, you can then add your salad greens, celery, grapes and more before serving.
Option 3: Freeze Leftover Chicken Salad
Freezing leftover chicken salad is often not as successful as freezing a chicken salad which you have prepared specially for the freezer; especially if it contains lots of veggies and mayonnaise. If you want to give it a try though, first of all, take the chicken salad from the refrigerator and give it a good mix to make sure the dressing is well mixed as this will help it keep together when frozen. Place the salad in an airtight bag. Although we usually fill bags to the top for freezing, in this case, leave a little more room so that that the salad does not get squashed. Gently remove the excess air before sealing the bag and writing the date on it.
Place the sealed salad bag on a cookie sheet until frozen and then it can be moved to another part of the freezer for storage.
Chicken salad can stay at best quality in the freezer for between one and three months, but it is usually best consumed within a month of freezing to prevent as much texture loss.
Not all chicken salads will be suitable for serving as salad again after freezing and thawing, but you can often use it up in chicken pasta salads, wraps or sandwiches.
When Is the Right Time to Freeze Chicken Salad Safely?
If your chicken salad is homemade, you should freeze it the same day it is made. It should have been chilled and refrigerated straight after making and not left out at room temperature.
If you are freezing store bought chicken salad, it must be frozen by the use by date but ideally as soon after getting it home as you can. As with homemade chicken salad, the salad must have been kept refrigerated up until the point you freeze it i.e. should not have been out at room temperature at all, even when transporting it home.
If your chicken salad has been out at room temperature, even for a short while, there is an increased risk of foodborne illness and even if your chicken salad has been kept in the refrigerator but just does not tase that good then do not bother freezing it as it will not taste any better afterwards. Instead just trash it.
How to Thaw Frozen Chicken Salad
For safety, always defrost frozen chicken salad in the refrigerator the day before, never on the countertop. You should not use the microwave or warm water to thaw it either. A half full bag of salad should take around eight hours or so to defrost in the refrigerator.
If you have thawed a complete chicken salad that contains mayonnaise or yogurt, then you will need to do a little bit of work before serving to repair some of the dressing separation.
Once your chicken salad is thawed, drain off the excess liquid and give the salad a good mix. At this point, also check for any off odors or taste and if in doubt, throw it out.
Now add some extra mayonnaise or dressing and mix it in along with any fresh vegetables or fruits. Adding a teaspoon of cornstarch at this point can also help repair some of the loss of texture in the salad.
Once thawed, chicken salad should be kept refrigerated and used within two to three days. After this time, dispose of it. Thawed chicken salad should never be refrozen and if chicken salad is left out at room temperature for above two hours it will be unsafe to eat and should be trashed.
Can You Freeze Costco Chicken Salad?
Unless the carton says it is suitable for freezing, you are probably better not freezing any store bought chicken salad, including that from Costco. Most store bought chicken salads contain plenty of mayonnaise which will separate with freezing causing a loss of texture.
Take the same approach for any other store bought chicken salads such as from Sam’s Club or Willow Tree.
If you are desperate to buy that family sized carton of chicken salad, then you could always try a test freeze with a small amount to see how well it freezes and then thaws.
Yes, you can freeze chicken salad, however a chicken salad made ahead and frozen without mayonnaise and vegetables and fruits will freeze better than one containing mayonnaise or yogurt and vegetables, which may not freeze and thaw at all well. Frozen chicken salad can keep at best quality for one to three months but is best eaten sooner rather than later.