How to make: Macaroni salad

Macaroni salad was a very common family reunion party fare when I was a child. My father and my aunt, his sister, had their own versions and both were really great. My father’s version included hard-boiled quail eggs; my aunt’s had lots of pineapple tidbits and pickle relish.

Later on, when I started to learn how to cook, I discovered that I preferred crushed pineapple over pineapple tidbits. I also learned that adding small cubes of cheese makes macaroni salad even more interesting.

Then, there’s the chicken angle. I don’t know why, in the Philippines, macaroni salad almost always means chicken and macaroni salad. There’s so much more than chicken that can go with macaroni, pineapples and mayo. Take ham, for instance. Cut them into cubes and they’re just perfect. Then, there’s crisp bacon bits, diced turkey or duck meat. Or even boiled shrimps. Or canned tuna. My all-time favorite is macaroni salad with smoked salmon. Unbelievable experience.

Whatever meat or seafood I add to macaroni salad, chopped carrots and celery are always a must. I don’t know why but they add a depth to the macaroni salad experience that pineapple and pickle relish cannot provide. Perhaps, it’s the contrast in colors. Or the complimenting flavors. Or the crunchiness that balances the creaminess of mayonnaise and cheese. Or all of that.

Of course, adding carrots and celery does not mean you can’t have pineapples and pickle relish too. Ditch the usual and try different combinations. You’ll be surprised how extraordinary macaroni salad can be.

Ingredients :

250 g. of elbow or salad macaroni
1 c. of roughly chopped cooked chicken breast (or use ham, tuna, duck or turkey)
about 1/2 c. of mayonnaise
a cup of cheese cubes (1/2″ is a good size for elbow macaroni; smaller if you’re using salad macaroni)
a cup (or more) of drained crushed pineapple
1 tbsp. of sweet pickle relish
1/2 c. of slightly boiled and chopped carrot
1/2 c. of chopped celery
salt, to taste
white pepper, to taste
white sugar, to balance
chopped toasted nuts, to garnish (optional)

How to :

Just toss everything together. Transfer to a container, cover and chill for at least six hours.

Take out of the fridge and taste a piece of macaroni. At this time, the pasta would have absorbed the seasonings and the dressing. That’s really the thing about macaroni salad. You can never tell if it’s “right” until it has chilled and the flavors have blended. Only then can you tell what needs to be adjusted. More salt? Sugar? Pepper? Does the salad look dry? Need to add more mayo? Adjust the seasonings and the dressing, put back in the fridge, chill for another couple of hours and it’s ready to serve.

Serving suggestion: Place a couple of lettuce leaves on a salad plate. Pile the salad on top. Garnish with toasted nuts.