Chicken salads to inspire your inner cook
Store-bought rotisserie chicken is getting loads of play these days as a springboard to quick meals in your kitchen — and for a very good reason: A deconstructed supermarket chicken can save a cook time and energy when you’ve got chicken fajitas on the brain but only about 20 minutes to make it happen. Or you just need some low-fat protein to tuck into your chicken and veggie roll-ups. Or to plop on top of a fettuccini alfredo concept.
With all of that convenience in mind, I set out to turn those supermarket birds into chicken salads. I almost had myself convinced, and then something happened on the way to my test kitchen. My inner James Beard took over and suddenly I couldn’t pull the trigger on the idea of using what inevitably is an extremely brined and over-cooked bird on something I treasure so deeply.
My own approach to chicken salad construction has been colored by Beard, which is to say, figure on using the best ingredients, beginning with chicken that has been cooked in a manner that will yield the most delicious outcome.
My chicken salads tend to be a process. One recent morning I poached a chicken in half a pot of water with some coarsely chopped cloves of garlic, a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, and some salt and pepper. Around dinnertime, and long after the poached chicken had cooled its heels in the fridge, I pulled enough white and dark meat from the bird to feed two people, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Then I seasoned the chicken lightly with a little salt and pepper, added a finely minced green onion, and snipped about 1 teaspoon of fresh dill into it, along with enough sour cream and mayonnaise to barely hold the mixture together. I didn’t want to drown out the pure flavor of the chicken or dill. In another bowl I tossed together some baby lettuce greens with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a simple vinaigrette that I’d flavored with some finely minced fresh oregano. I divided the salad between two plates, then cozied a few slices of backyard tomato up against the greens, along with a healthy spoonful of the chicken salad. It was a divine meal.
What follows are a few more approaches to chicken salad. Perhaps one or two will inspire your own inner cook.
Chicken Salad with Fresh Dill
Makes 4 servings.
1 whole poached chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped green onion
About 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh snipped dill
Equal amounts of sour cream and mayonnaise
Fresh salad greens tossed with vinaigrette
To poach the chicken, add one whole, uncooked chicken to a pot, filled halfway with water. Throw in some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the chicken is done. This may be done 1 to 2 days ahead.
Around dinnertime, pull enough white and dark meat from the bird to feed two to four people, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Season the chicken lightly with a little salt and pepper, add some finely minced green onion and snipped fresh dill into it, along with enough sour cream and mayonnaise to barely hold the mixture together. You don’t want to drown out the pure flavor of the chicken or dill.
In another bowl I tossed together some baby lettuce with a simple vinaigrette. Divide the salad between plates, then cozy a serving of the chicken salad up against the greens, along with tomato slices if they are available.
James Beard’s Wild Rice and Chicken Salad
Makes 4 servings
4 cups water
1-1/2 cups wild rice, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cut-up poached chicken
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green onion
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Tomato wedges and red pepper strips for garnish
Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe follows)
Fresh baby greens
In a large heavy saucepan bring to boil the water, rice and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain. Cool the wild rice, then combine with the chicken, celery, pine nuts, parsley, green onions and tarragon. Add most of the vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat the ingredients. Add additional dressing as desired. Garnish with the tomato and red pepper and serve on a bed of fresh baby greens.
Vinaigrette Dressing: Combine 3 tablespoons red or white vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Jalapeno Dressing
Makes 4 servings as an entree.
This is Waldorf salad on vacation in Albuquerque. The hazelnuts complement the feta, apple and cherries. This is one of those great “ladies luncheon” sorts of offerings. It would even be a lovely addition to a brunch buffet.
3/4 to 1 cup Chili Mayonnaise (recipe follows)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each), grilled, chilled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped, roasted and skinned hazelnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups chopped mixed salad greens
2 Roma tomatoes, cored and sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
To serve: Combine the mayonnaise with the chicken, celery, raisins, apples, hazelnuts, salt and pepper. Mix well. Serve on top of mixed greens with sliced tomatoes on the side and a crumbling of feta on top.
Chile Mayonnaise: Remove the stems, seeds and ribs from 1 fresh Serrano pepper and 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper and coarsely chop. Puree the peppers, 3 cloves peeled garlic and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice in a blender. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl, then whisk in 1 cup mayonnaise. (This makes about 1-1/8 cup)
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.