Joni Woolf: Thinking outside the box (or book): chicken salad, cream puffs

Published 4:00 pm Monday, September 12, 2016

Recently I made chicken salad to take to a friend who was recuperating from surgery. I did not refer to my fail-safe recipe. I should have. Instead, I mixed together cooked chicken, celery, a few grapes and mayonnaise. It was alright. “Alright” is not a recommendation. Later I remembered the chicken salad recipe I had gotten from Alacia Rhame, who wrote occasionally for Macon Magazine, and who grew up in Brooks County, as I had. Younger, prettier, and eternally precious, she was also an excellent cook. So I decided this week that the next time I make chicken salad, it will be her recipe that I use, and that I offer here.
While I turned the chicken salad over in my brain, I remembered a party that my late sister had, years ago, when she briefly lived in Macon. It was a small gathering, perhaps a dozen folks. I offered to help with the food. Well. She was making cream puffs to stuff with chicken salad and some sort of seafood salad. I had never heard of cream puffs stuffed with anything except gooey sweet fillings and topped with whipped cream — an éclair of sorts. I watched as she created these pastry masterpieces, cutting off their tops, removing some of the dough, and then, sure enough, stuffing them with chicken salad. It worked! People liked them. They came back for more. I went home and tried my own hand at this French delicacy, and found that I, too, could make a cream puff. And so can you. Unlike some French recipes, this one does not require any unusual skills or tools. Just some flour, eggs and butter — and a little time. (They are also delicious filled with custard, or with ice cream that’s covered with sauce.)

Chicken Salad, ala Alacia Rhame
(Serves 12)

5 lbs. chicken breasts, split
Butter, salt and pepper
12-oz. pkg. slivered almonds
2 cups mayonnaise
1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups celery, chopped fine
3 6-oz. cans sliced water chestnuts
2 lbs. Thompson seedless grapes, sliced in halves

Brush chicken breasts with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap chicken in aluminum foil and seal edges. Place on cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree F. oven for 1 hour. When done remove bones and cut into bite size pieces. Saute almonds in butter until golden brown. Place on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Put aside until just before serving. You can do all this the day before. A few hours before serving, mix the mayonnaise with the curry powder and the soy sauce. Combine with chicken, celery, water chestnuts and grapes. Serve on bed of Romaine lettuce and sprinkle the sautéed almonds on top just before serving.

Cream Puffs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat to a rolling boil in saucepan:
1 cup water
½ cup butter
Stir in all at once:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture leaves the pan and forms into a ball (about 1 minute). Remove from heat. Beat in thoroughly, one at a time:
4 eggs
Beat mixture until smooth and velvety. Drop from spoon onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake until dry, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool slowly. Cut off tops with sharp knife. Scoop out any filaments of soft dough. Fill with chicken salad (or with sweetened whipped cream, or custard, or ice cream). Your only limit is your imagination.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at