This colorful chicken pasta salad is full of flavor with tons of protein and veggies and a creamy lemon dressing. A real crowd-pleaser and family favorite, it’s perfect for your next backyard bbq or even for meal prep.
While our Easy Vegetable Pasta Salad makes a great side dish, this chicken pasta salad can be a satisfying meal. It’s well balanced with lots of protein and vegetables, but if you want something to add on the side, a loaf of crusty bread or even Cheesy Garlic Bread would be a winning comb0.
Ingredients and Variations
Recipes that have fresh, easy to find ingredients are always a winner. This pasta salad is super simple to make, with fresh veggies, your favorite pasta and some chicken. Plus the creamy pasta salad dressing is made fresh with items you probably already have on hand.
Chicken – you can use breasts or thighs, or even use up leftovers. Already cooked is great but there are instructions for quickly sauteeing the chicken as well for the best flavor. In a pinch, you can even use shredded rotisserie chicken or leftover turkey or ham instead.
Pasta – 16 ounces of small pasta like farfalle, penne or rotini. I like farfalle because it looks like a butterfly. Any medium cut pasta will work.
Veggies – I used broccoli, cucumber and tomatoes, but you could also add in your favorites, like onion, bell pepper, or mushrooms. You can also add some fresh herbs, like parsley, basil or thyme.
How to Make Chicken Pasta Salad
Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta to al dente (still with a little bit of a bite to it) and rinse it. Usually I don’t recommend rinsing your pasta, but that’s just for hot dishes. A quick rinse in cold water will help the pasta stop cooking. Then put it in the fridge to chill.
Season and cook the chicken: Season with salt and pepper and cook in a skillet with olive oil or butter. Get a nice golden sear and cook until the center is no longer pink (165 degrees).
Steam the vegetables: You can definitely use raw veggies if you like. But for chicken pasta salad, I like to veggies to have a nice bite to them but not be so crunchy that it makes it difficult to eat.
Mix: Combine everything together in a big bowl and add the dressing.
Pasta Salad Dressing
I use a creamy lemon pasta salad dressing made with mayo and Greek yogurt, lemon, parmesan cheese and garlic. If you prefer an oil and vinegar based dressing you can forgo the mayo and yogurt and use that instead.
Whisk together mayonnaise, nonfat Greek yogurt (or sour cream), then add Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and zest, olive oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour about half of the dressing oven the chicken pasta salad and toss to coat. Add more dressing until you feel like it’s enough.
What is the best pasta for pasta salad?
My favorite pasta for pasta salads are rotini and farfalle. Rotini is the corkscrew shaped pasta and I love it because it holds up well with the dressing. Farfalle is also known as butterfly or bow tie pasta because of its shape. In size, it matches up with the chunks of veggies and chicken really nicely.
Avoid long pastas like spaghetti and fettuccine. Penne, rotini, macaroni and farfalle will all work well for this chicken pasta salad.
Should you rinse pasta for cold pasta salad?
Do rinse your pasta for cold pasta salad. This is one time when I do recommend rinsing the pasta to remove excess starch and stop the cooking process to keep it from getting mushy. Sometimes I chill it if I’m not assembling the pasta salad right away. The pasta might stick together, but once you start stirring it up with the dressing it’s fine.
With hot pasta dishes like Million Dollar Spaghetti and Stovetop Mac and Cheese you don’t need to rinse – the starch is actually helpful. But for cold pasta salad, excess starch can actually make the pasta mushy and not very palatable.
How to store chicken pasta salad
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Stir gently and add a little more mayo or greek yogurt if it seems dry. Freezing is not recommended.
Is is better to make pasta salad the day before?
To make ahead of time, I recommend cooking the pasta and the chicken the day before and storing them in airtight containers in the fridge. Then up to 6-8 hours in advance you can mix everything together. Doing things a little bit in advance will give the flavors a chance to blend and create a better tasting salad.
Tips for chicken pasta salad
I recommend parboiling any of the harder veggies, like the broccoli, for a better texture.
Feel free to add other elements, like black beans, corn, avocado, spinach, arugula, bell peppers, olives or bacon.
You can serve this chicken pasta salad at room temperature or chilled. Either way is fine. Just make sure to refrigerate no less than 2 hours after assembling.
To make this pasta salad vegetarian, omit the chicken and use your favorite vegetarian salad dressing.
You can use gluten free or whole grain pasta in place of the white pasta.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook for about 4 minutes per side (2-3 for tenders), or until no longer pink. Set aside to cool before slicing. *Note - if chicken pieces are especially thick, lightly pound the thick end to make even.
Meanwhile, cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Rinse and set aside to cool.
In a blender, add dressing ingredients and pulse until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss pasta with half of the dressing. Add chicken and veggies and toss with remaining dressing. Season with salt and black pepper if needed.
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Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.