Something this easy should not taste this good. Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad comes together in seconds and will have you licking the bowl. This oil-based chicken salad is perfect for hot summer days when you just do not feel like cooking and still want something a bit more refined. Makes a small batch that scales easily, and you’ll make the dressing on repeat.

Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad:  when it’s too hot to cook

As I write this post, it’s muggy as all get out here in northern New England, and there’s a chance of tornadoes. In other words, it’s not the kind of day that inspires you to fire up the oven and get cooking. It is the kind of weather, though, that makes you visit your herb pots (fire-escape herb garden, anyone?) and get a little creative. An oil-based chicken salad, perhaps, made complex and herby with hardly any effort. Maybe this Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad, proof that you can have an elevated dish without breaking a sweat.

Castle Island
Castle Island, Boston

Oil-based chicken salad & my visits to Castle Island

Back when I lived in Somerville, Massachusetts, I used to beat the heat by heading out to Boston’s Castle Island.  Accessible by a footpath from Pleasure Bay, Castle Island boasts a fort that dates back to the seventeenth century, now known as Fort Independence. While some tourists go there to check out the fort and see planes taking off from nearby Logan Airport, it’s mainly used by Bostonians as a place to escape the oppressive city heat.

Picnic lunches

While I would usually get an ice cream from Sully’s, I would pack a picnic lunch.  I’d put together some kind of salad, fruit, and bread, along with a white-wine spritzer that I’d sneak sips of with my lunch. I’d spread out a table cloth and eat in the shade of Fort Independence, looking out toward the sea. The breeze felt like heaven.

Nervous about mayo

I used an icepack to keep everything cool, of course, but II definitely did not want to mess with mayo on these picnics. When I brought chicken salad, I would make it with a vinaigrette instead of mayo. Over time, I found myself making chicken salad that way even when I wasn’t packing a picnic. And, over time, I began experimenting with different vinaigrettes.

Walnut-Tarragon Vinaigrette

This Walnut-Tarragon Vinaigrette, though? It’s on a whole other level. It’s thanks to the walnut oil, sherry vinegar, and herb mix. I hope you’ll try the walnut oil and sherry vinegar in the dressing, because it’s just THAT good, but if you can’t find them or if they prove too costly, I’ve included substitutions in the notes.

Walnut oil

Have you ever had walnut oil? If you haven’t, add it to your grocery list, because this finishing oil makes everything wonderful. I often drizzle it on greens, sprinkle with a bit of flaky sea salt and call it blessed.

Here, it adds a nuttiness that’s complemented by the chopped walnuts sprinkled on the salad just before serving.

You can often find walnut oil at the grocery store, but I’ve got it in the Kitchen Shop if you don’t have luck tracking it down. Once you taste it, it’s going to become a kitchen staple.

Sherry vinegar

This isn’t the first time sherry vinegar has made an appearance here on the blog, as its nutty sweet complexity of this Spanish delight makes a welcome addition to your vinegars. Sherry vinegar can be a bit harder to find in grocery stores, and it can be expensive. I’ve linked to a more modestly priced, yet still delicious, sherry vinegar in the Kitchen shop.

Tarragon, chives, and parsley

The final part of the Walnut-Tarragon Vinaigrette is the herb combo. You could go heavier on the tarragon here, if you wished, but I think the balance works nicely here. Chives are a nice summer addition, but you could also use minced shallots. Parsley lends a bit of freshness.

Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad

Once you’ve shaken up the dressing (it takes less than five minutes, herb chopping included), chop yourself some chicken (rotisserie chicken means you don’t have to cook at all), and a handful of dried cranberries. Moisten with some of the vinaigrette (you’ll have more than you need for the chicken salad), mix to combine, and then chill for an hour or two. If it needs it, add a little more dressing and stir before topping with chopped walnuts.

While this is best eaten on a picnic at Castle Island with sneaky sips of a white-wine spritzer, I think you’ll love it no matter your circumstances.

A small-ish batch that’s easy to scale

This makes enough for two decent servings of Walnut-Tarragon Chicken salad.  If you need more, there’s a multiplier on the recipe card, but there’s not much to scaling it, given the ingredients.

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Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad

Walnut-Tarragon Chicken Salad is an oil-based chicken salad that's perfect for when you just can't be bothered to actually cook, but want something nice. I use rotisserie chicken here and avoid the heat altogether, but you can use whatever leftover chicken you have (Better Than Meal Kit Chicken, sans sauce, would be perfect here).
The dressing makes more than you need. Use it to re-moisten the salad as necessary or eat it on salads. Feel free to play with the herbs in it.
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 2 servings


  • 1 small jar with lid
  • 1 bowl, large enough to hold the ingredients


For the Walnut-Tarragon Vinaigrette (makes more than you need)

  • 6 tbsp walnut oil substitute olive oil (see note)
  • 3 tbsp sherry vinegar substitute red wine vinegar (see note)
  • tsp Dijon mustard to taste
  • ¾ tsp finely chopped tarragon leaves to taste
  • ½ tsp minced chives substitute shallots, to taste
  • ¾ tsp chopped parsley
  • kosher salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Tarragon Chicken Salad

  • cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks
  • 1 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped to taste, substitute other tart-sweet dried fruit
  • kosher salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

To Serve

  • 1 tbsp walnuts, chopped optional, to taste


For the Walnut Tarragon Vinaigrette

  • In a small jar with lid (you could also use a bowl and a fork), add the walnut oil. Shake vigorously until you see the oil get a bit cloudy. You're making an emulsion, and this helps to prepare the oil
    6 tbsp walnut oil
  • Add the sherry vinegar and shake again until combined
    3 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • Add the Dijon mustard and herbs and shake again. Season with salt and pepper and shake one more time. Use now or chill and use within a few days
    2½ tsp Dijon mustard, ¾ tsp finely chopped tarragon leaves, ½ tsp minced chives, ¾ tsp chopped parsley, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

Assemble the Chicken Salad

  • Add chicken and dried cranberries to a bowl and add sufficient dressing to moisten. Season with salt and pepper to taste. While you can serve this now (we know all about summer eating), it's going to be better if you pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill and allow the flavors to meld
    1½ cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks, 1 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

  • To serve, add a little more dressing if needed and top with chopped walnuts. Serve in a sandwich, or atop salad greens
    1 tbsp walnuts, chopped



Note: If you use olive oil and/or red wine vinegar, you may wish to add a little honey to the dressing to sweeten it.
Keyword tarragon, Tarragon Chicken Salad, Walnut oil
Tried this recipe?Let me know what you think!

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