This chicken taco salad recipe delivers several delicious Mexican cuisine fixings in one bowl! Crunchy romaine is drizzled with a creamy salsa dressing, then topped with corn, beans, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, and tortilla chips.
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We all love taco night, but sometimes switching things up is fun. I’ve taken the critical elements of my chicken tacos and transformed them into a hearty, protein and vegetable-packed salad. Enjoying the savory handheld meal in a bowl loaded with all your favorite toppings is less messy!
Using my go-to taco seasoning mix is a quick way to boost the flavor of the chicken and salad dressing. The bold, concentrated spices are sprinkled on the meat and mixed into the sauce. It’s paired with refreshing slices of lettuce and a colorful mix of customizable toppings.
Boneless skinless chicken breast is a great lean protein option. The meat’s neutral flavor makes it ideal for adding the dried taco seasoning blend. Purchase 8-ounce pieces so they won’t cook too fast and dry out.
For even cooking, flatten the pieces out to about ½-inch. Alternatively, if they are too large, you can slice them in half into cutlets. This taco salad is also great for using leftover rotisserie chicken. Just shred or chop it up into small pieces.
Season the meat
I use my homemade taco seasoning recipe to season the surface of the meat. It combines paprika (smoked recommended), cumin, salt, black pepper, coriander, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder. Evenly sprinkle about ½ teaspoon per side, then reserve the rest to incorporate into the dressing.
The seasoning is very dry, so it’s essential to rub some olive oil and blend it to prevent the spices from charring too quickly when cooking. Try my chicken marinade, soaking for at least 30 minutes if you prefer to marinate the chicken. I recommend switching out the lemon and parsley for lime juice and cilantro for Mexican-inspired flavor.
Cook the chicken
Cooking the chicken on the stovetop makes for an easy year-round method. I prefer a grill pan to achieve char marks, but a cast iron skillet, nonstick, or stainless steel pan works well. Sear the breasts in olive oil over medium heat until the surface is a deep golden brown.
The paprika in the seasoning blend will darken quickly, so reduce the heat if needed. It takes about 5 to 8 minutes per side for the internal temperature to reach between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Once the meat rests for 10 minutes, then slice or chop it up. However, during barbecue season, I prefer to grill the chicken outside. The smokey flavor adds another layer of flavor.
Make the salad dressing
The dressing is effortless and made with only three ingredients; sour cream, salsa, and taco seasoning. The dairy makes the texture super creamy, although you can use crema or plain greek yogurt as a substitute. I enjoy the extra protein and healthy probiotics that the yogurt adds to the dressing.
When I make a batch of homemade salsa, I use it in this recipe. For convenience, use your favorite jarred or refrigerated product. Just ensure it’s pourable and not too chunky like pico de gallo. That would make a better salad topping. Add about 2 teaspoons of the reserved taco seasoning used for the chicken to elevate the mixture’s flavor. You can add less, then adjust it to your liking.
I like to slice up crisp and refreshing romaine lettuce for the salad. Alternatively, other types of shredded lettuce, like iceberg adds a nice crunch. Choose a green that won’t immediately wilt down when tossed with the thick creamy dressing. I slice the pieces to about ½-inch wide for hearty bites that are easy to chew.
If you happen to have the grill heated for the chicken, why not try grilled romaine for a charred flavor.
Add salad toppings
This is the fun and customizable part of building your dream taco salad. For a festive presentation, assemble the ingredients into individual bowls made of crunchy fried tortillas for a taco bowl. The essential toppings include black beans, sweet corn, juicy ripe tomatoes, creamy avocado, shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, diced red onion, cilantro, and crunchy tortilla chips or chips.
Serve this with
Yes! Ground chicken or turkey works well for a taco salad, especially if you prefer smaller pieces. Brown the meat in the olive oil, cooking until no longer raw, and break it into smaller chunks. Season with two teaspoons of the taco seasoning.
The chicken will be warm after slicing, which is a nice contrast to the cool and crisp lettuce leaves and other toppings. If you prefer the meat cold, chill the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before assembling the salad.
The salad can be meal prepped, adding just the lettuce, tomatoes, corn, black beans, cheese, and cooled cooked chicken up to 2 days before serving. You can make the salad dressing 3 days in advance. Wait to add the avocado, onions, cilantro, and chips so that the components don’t get brown or soggy. Wait to dress the salad until ready to serve.
The importance of oiling the seasoned chicken
When adding a dry taco seasoning blend to meat, there’s a risk of burning the spices as it cooks. This is because the moisture has already been removed from the spices, reducing the steam generated as it heats up, which protects them from the heat. You want a golden crust or char marks from the grill, but not incinerate. To prevent this, rub the meat with a high smoke point fat like olive or avocado oil to create a protective layer to reduce burning. It also releases fat-soluble flavor compounds from the seasoning to make the meat more flavorful.
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Chicken Taco Salad
Chicken Taco Seasoning
Creamy Salsa Dressing
- ½ cup sour cream, or plain greek yogurt
- ½ cup salsa
- 2 teaspoons chicken taco seasoning, reserved from above
- 8 cups romaine lettuce, ½” thick slices
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 medium avocado, ½” dice (1 cup)
- ¾ cup corn kernels, canned or grilled
- ¾ cup black beans, canned, rinsed and drained
- ½ cup cheddar cheese, or Monterey Jack
- ½ cup crushed corn tortilla chips
- ¼ cup diced red onion, ¼” dice
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- Prepare the Chicken – Place one of the chicken pieces between two plastic sheets or in a large plastic bag. Flatten to an even thickness, about ½-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining piece.
- Make the Taco Seasoning – In a small bowl, combine paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, coriander, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder. Reserve 2 teaspoons to use for the salad dressing.
- Season the Chicken – Season both sides of the chicken breast with the remaining taco seasoning mixture. Drizzle about a ½ teaspoon of olive oil on both sides, rubbing onto the surface to coat evenly.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat if the surface is browning too quickly. Transfer to a clean plate to rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice the Chicken – Slice the meat against the grain. If desired, chop into cubes. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Make the Dressing – In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, salsa, and 2 teaspoons of reserved taco seasoning. To thin, whisk in water in 1 teaspoon increments until you reach the desired consistency.
- Dress the Salad – Add romaine lettuce to a large bowl and ¼ cup of dressing. Gently toss to combine.
- To Serve – Top the lettuce with tomatoes, avocado, corn, beans, cheese, chips, red onion, and cilantro. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.
- Dressing Yield: 1 cup
- Storing: It’s best to serve the salad immediately. Alternatively, wait to add dressing and cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. The salad dressing can be made 3 days in advance. It will need to be diluted with water if it’s too thick from chilling.
- Grilled Chicken: Preheat grill over medium-high heat between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Clean and grease grates with the oil. Keep one burner off for indirect heat cooking. Place chicken on the direct heat side and close the lid. Cook each side for about 5 to 8 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). If browning quickly, move the chicken to the indirect heat side to finish.
- Using Pre-Cooked Chicken: 2 ½ cups of shredded, sliced, or cubed chicken.
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