I made these pesto chicken salad sandwiches for a crowd of close friends last weekend. My husband and I met in college and the first birthday we celebrated together included a surprise dinner for Kenny and his friends. Kenny loves to spoil me for birthdays and anniversaries but doesn’t expect much in return. If we spent all of his birthdays on the couch with a good movie and a great meal he would be totally content.
Because I love my husband and he deserves the best, I decided to surprise him again this year with a Dodgers/Giants game in San Francisco. Growing up in Southern California, Kenny is a devout Dodger’s fan. When we found out “los doyers” would be playing the SF Giants the weekend of Kenny’s birthday, we booked our tickets right away. Even though Kenny knew we were going to a ball game for his birthday, he had no idea that 6 of his close friends would surprise him at the ballpark in honor of his special day.
The hardest part of keeping the secret was bringing food for 8 people without tipping off the birthday boy. If I packed 8 individual sandwiches, Kenny definitely would have questioned my decision to provide 4 sandwiches each for the two of us. Thankfully, packing 3 monster sandwiches didn’t raise any flags for Kenny, although I’m not sure what that says about how much food we usually consume!
The sandwiches were a big hit and my husband was so blessed by the love he felt that night.
You can pair down this recipe for a smaller group or keep it as is to feed a summer party or host a fun summer picnic.
6.7 ounce jar of store bought pesto (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
6 ounces mayonnaise
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
Ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil (good quality oil is essential for this recipe because you’re serving it uncooked)
12 leaves romaine lettuce, washed and dried
16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
3 loaves good quality ciabatta bread
Place the chicken, 2 teaspoons sea salt, onion, garlic, and bay leaves in a large pot. Pour enough cold, filtered water in the pot to cover the chicken.
Cover the pot with its lid and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
As soon as the water boils, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, about 10-15 minutes. The chicken is cooked when it is opaque and has an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Start testing the temperature after 8 minutes of simmering. As any smaller pieces of chicken reach 165 degrees, remove those pieces from the water so they don’t overcook.
Remove all the cooked chicken from the cooking liquid and allow to cool slightly.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred the chicken.
While the chicken is cooking, combine the pesto, mayonnaise, basil, and mustard in a large bowl. Mix until well combined.
Add the cooked, shredded chicken to the dressing and toss to fully combined.
Taste the chicken and add salt and pepper as necessary. The amount of salt you add at this point will depend on how salty your store bought pesto is – just test and adjust until you get the flavor you want.
Assemble the sandwiches:
Assemble the sandwiches thirty minutes before serving to allow the flavors to combine.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the ciabatta loaves in half lengthwise, leaving one side of the bread attached, and scoop out extra bread from the center. Place the ciabatta, sliced side down, directly on the oven rack and toast for 5-10 minutes (depending on how crunchy you’d like your sandwich).
Remove the bread from the oven, drizzle hot bread with a bit of olive oil.
Layer 2 pieces of romaine lettuce on each side of the bread, this creates a barrier so the chicken salad doesn’t make the bread soggy.
Layer the slices of mozzarella on top of the lettuce and the slices of tomato on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle some sea salt over the tomatoes to bring out their flavor.
Divide the chicken salad evenly among the three loaves of ciabatta and spread evenly.
Wrap the sandwiches tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Slice into desired number of servings and enjoy.