Thursday, April 5, 2012

springtime lunch

I can't pinpoint the time I started making this chicken salad, but I remember vaguely getting the idea after watching Ina Garten make a dish with chicken and grapes.
I wanted to combine the idea of chicken salad with the idea of potato salad with the idea of egg salad. Get the idea?


I've been making this salad for quite a while now and I really, truly love it. Sometimes I forget how good it is, take a bite, and think "wow, this is fantastic."
True story.
And it's like most of my cooking: guess amounts, throw stuff in, taste, repeat.
The main component, and the most important, is the chicken. In the times I've made this, I've tried roasting, grilling, even pan-frying. The absolute best bet is poaching.
And if you're like me, you just cringed.
The only memories I have of poached chicken are rubbery, dry, tasteless ones.
The idea is to not boil the crap out of it; the idea is to impart flavor and simmer gently.
When you create a poaching liquid, think about flavor. I throw in chunks of carrots, celery, onions. I crush garlic cloves and peppercorns. I add some bay leaves and thyme leaves. Even some parsley stems. And instead of just plain water, I add in some chicken stock.
Simmer the chicken in the liquid gently for about 15 minutes, cool it and shred it and you've got chicken that stays moist and delicious and is the perfect component for chicken salad.
Everything else? well they're just star supporting actors. The hard-boiled egg adds interesting taste, the basil adds that fresh, herby background, and the grapes add the perfect sweet surprise.
Happy spring lunch.

Chicken Salad
Use good quality mayonnaise. Miracle Whip is not acceptable.
The poaching is recommended, but optional. You could even purchase a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred.


Poaching Liquid:
3 cups total water and chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
1/4 onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
bunch parsley and thyme stems
salt, peppercorns
slice of lemon or lemon peel

1 lb chicken breast

2 medium carrots, shredded
1 c grapes, halved
2 T (or so) basil, chiffonade
handful parsley, chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 c mayonnaise
salt, pepper
1/4 c almonds, optional

1. Add the poaching liquid ingredients to a shallow pan and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add in the chicken. If the liquid does not quite cover the chicken, add some more until it does.
2. Poach gently (do not boil), uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the liquid, cool and shred.
3. In a large bowl, add the shredded chicken, carrots, grapes, herbs, egg, and lemon juice. Mix well. Add in mayonnaise and mix to coat and combine. Taste for seasonings. Add almonds if desired.
4. Serve atop spinach or baby arugula or a soft, toasty bun for a light lunch.

Makes 4 servings.


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