Chicken salad is any salad that comprises chicken as a main ingredient. In Europe and Asia this may be complemented by any number of dressings, or indeed no dressing at all and the salad consituant can vary from traditional leaves and vegetables, pastas, cous cous to noodles or rice.
In the US it refers to a salad consisting primarily of chopped chicken meat and a fat-based binder such as mayonnaise or salad dressing. Like tuna salad, it is served as a creamy spread, and it is often used for sandwiches. Typically it is made with leftover or canned chicken in the United States.
Chicken Salad is thought to have been first served by Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island in 1863. The original owner, Liam Gray, mixed his leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes. This became such a popular item that the meat market was converted to a deli which still stands to this day.
You'll note the footnote here, the citation that proves that the claim about Mr. Liam Gray is indeed true. That links to the following Dekalb County Times-Journal article written by one Judy O'Daniel in July 2008:
We all know about chicken salad, but how long has this favorite dish been around? Some historians say a cook named Liam Gray first made it in Rhode Island in the late 1800s. His original recipe consisted of leftover chicken, chicken “drippings”, an oil and egg mixture and small seedless grapes — and we thought the addition of grapes was a modern, creative addition. Not so.
Sense a bit of circularity? Damned skippy: the article refers to the wikipedia entry, which cites the article, which....
You get the idea. Apparently, much of the rest of the internet does not. Ask.com, reference.com, instapedia.com, and a bunch more got punk'd.
We've debunked a lot of myths around here, but this little anecdote makes me wonder if we've missed the forest for the trees. What other internet "food history" is ripe for the plucking?