Archive for September 2012
I wouldn’t judge you if you took a look at that big sloppy mess of reddish-looking chicken piled on top of a piece of bread and thought in your head that no, this is not one of those recipes that I will be making any time soon. Let’s both be honest and admit that it’s not the prettiest thing to be posted in the food blog world. And even if it were pretty, we have to face the fact of what it is: chicken salad. Chicken salad, fancied up a little bit with some sort of Spanish twist (however contrived).
But really, when was the last time you made chicken salad, let alone ate it? The only chicken salad I had been familiar with–however theoretically that familiarity is–is the classic mayo-based salad filled with halved grapes and candied pecans. Not the most enticing thing I think, at least to me. I used to think chicken salad was a meal that just wasn’t in my cards.
Cook’s Illustrated started to change my mind about that when they set out to develop a series of chicken salad recipes that weren’t weighed down by mayonnaise but were instead fresher and lighter, with bolder flavors. One variation of chicken salad they ended up developing featured a roasted red pepper vinaigrette base. This, along with the fact that I had a 16-ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers in my cupboards just waiting to be used, was enough for me to enter what I had once considered the forbidden land of chicken salad.
(As a side note, yes I did use pre-roasted, jarred red bell peppers in this recipe. Even though bell peppers are in the height of their season right now. I needn’t express my guilt as a self-proclaimed food-loving and food-trend-following person. Because, to be honest with you, the ease factor outweighs any sort of guilt I feel. If you want, you can of course roast your own bell peppers. Instructions can be found here.)
So I made the chicken salad. And, lo and behold, I liked it. A lot. A lot of credit goes to the roasted red pepper vinaigrette itself—I have leftovers of it in a little jar in my fridge just waiting to be used on salads, or used as a dip for even more toast (still haven’t broken my toast habit). But I think I like it best with the chicken. Something about the acidity of the vinaigrette with the fattiness of the chicken. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which I think I prefer in the case of shredding it up to be eaten cold as a salad. But you may of course use white chicken breasts, if you’d like. Besides that, the other little goodies in the salad–more diced roasted red bell peppers, green olives, and sliced almonds–round out the chicken salad part of the meal. Because, after all, what would a cold chicken salad be without some token crunchy and tasty add-ins?
I am now somewhat pleased to say I might be a chicken-salad convert. I have dreams of packaging it up for a picnic where it’d be piled on top of bread and eaten in the sun. This of course is probably not ever going to happen, but you know, a girl can hope. Still, I consider it a win to be able to sit down for dinner and eat some cold chicken salad and for it to be actually pretty enjoyable. I’m even tempted to press my luck and try out some other chicken salad recipes. The Thai-style variation with a spicy peanut dressing offered by Cook’s Illustrated is particularly calling my name. If I ever get so bold to continue on and try that, I’ll let you know.
One Year Ago: Sweet and Spicy African Peanut Soup
Spanish-Style Chicken Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 4 to 6
I poached the chicken for the salad, just because I thought it was the easiest way to ensure tender and juicy chicken. You may, of course, cook your chicken any way you’d like, though. Or just get a store-bought rotisserie chicken, as the original recipe suggests.
Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 ounces (about 200 grams) roasted red bell peppers, diced (about 2/3 cup)
1 big clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs
1 shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 medium ribs celery, sliced very thin (about 1 cup)
5 ounces (200 grams) roasted red bell peppers, diced (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup chopped green olives
small handful of parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
First, make the vinaigrette. Puree oil, 2/3 cup roasted red bell peppers, garlic, salt and a few big pinches worth of fresh ground pepper in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid; set aside.
To prepare and cook the chicken, fill a deep 12-inch skillet with water until the water level reaches about 2/3 the way up in the pan. While you’re at it, throw in a good 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt in the water to flavor it. Bring water to a steady simmer over medium heat. Once simmering, carefully place the chicken in the liquid so that it’s fully submerged and allow to poach, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through. This will depend on the cut and size of meat you have, but for chicken breasts this should take between 15 to 20 minutes, and around 12 or so minutes for chicken thighs. Remove from broth and set aside. Once cool enough to handle, shred the chicken meat into pieces about 2-inches long (discarding any fat or sinewy pieces if necessary). You should have about 5 cups of shredded chicken, more or less. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the shallot, celery, 2/3 cup of red bell pepper, green olives and parsley to the chicken; loosely stir to combine. Add about half the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Depending on how much chicken you have, you may want to add more or less vinaigrette. I’d just keep adding the vinaigrette in tablespoons until the chicken is dressed enough to your liking. Taste for salt and pepper. Sprinkle with almonds, and serve.
I’ve haven’t stopped in here with something to share in far too long for my liking. I have nothing to say for myself except that maybe, possibly, I have a severe case of laziness. Laziness both in terms of making something to eat that isn’t some form of cheese or vegetable or egg (or some combination of the three) on toasted bread, and then more laziness towards actually putting in the slight additional effort to photograph anything decently. However, that’s not to say I still haven’t been eating well. Toast is pretty tasty, it turns out.
But, I decided that as an excuse for me to post something and say hi, I’d share a simple bean salad that I’ve eaten a couple times over the past two weeks. I guess it’s so simple that it barely constitutes a recipe, but no matter! I’ve been picking up a combination of yellow and purple-tinted wax beans as well as regular green beans at the farmers market the past few weekends. Going to the farmers market these past saturdays has been one of the few perks in returning to a college city that I normally otherwise lovingly refer to as a cultural wasteland. In the slow transition from summer into fall here, I don’t have a firm grasp of what’s in season or not. I really am terrible at that. But I’ve just been grabbing things, like these beans, and they end up tasting good, very good. So thank you, farmers market, and sorry, city that I live in, for putting up with my complaints about your inferiority.
Anyway, in almost every instance, this is how I’ve been eating the share of beans I bring home every weekend. The recipe comes from Mireille Johnston, in her cookbook Cuisine of the Sun. I’ve been reading that book a lot lately when I try to figure out how to deal with any summer (especially late summer) produce. It’s almost always simple, and always delicious. The first time I made this bean salad, I brought it picnic-style for Lindsey and me to share on a day-trip to Portland when she was recently here visiting. We ate it at room-tempurature, in the sunshine, with a couple rolls of bread. It was awesome. I’ve since made it, sprinkling it with either basil or parsley depending on what I have, and eaten it warm. It’s a little bit of a lazy salad, I’d say, and it has been fitting in just right with me lately.
A simple provencal bean salad
Adapted from Mireille Johnston’s Cuisine of the Sun
Serves 4 (although a half serving of this has served solely as my meal on a couple occasions)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds green beans, rinsed
1/2 cup parsley or basil, chopped
For the vinaigrette, mix the vinegar, salt, a good pinch of black pepper, and the garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle in the oil, whisking the whole time, in order to emulsify the vinaigrette. Likewise, you could just stick all of the contents in a small glass jar with a lid and then shake it until it’s all combined. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, snap off the tips of the beans. Cook the beans in the boiling water, uncovered, for about 4 to 5 minutes, until tender with a little bit of a bite still to them. Drain, and put the beans into a medium bowl. Add the vinaigrette to the still warm beans and toss immediately. Sprinkle the parsley or basil, and serve warm or at room temperature.
I’m guessing you already have your mind made up about liver pate. Maybe you align with every single one of my friends, who upon me forcing them to try a bite, manage only to respond with something like, “Eh, not my thing,” or “I can see how this is ‘good,’ but I just don’t like it,” or even the ever-eloquent “Ewwww!” If you fall somewhere within that range of reactions, not to worry! There is time yet to convert you.
But as much as I want to win over those of you who are still reluctant to eat (and maybe actually enjoy) this, I feel a little guilty doing it. I’m sad to say I am just as “American” as my peers when it comes to being squeamish about eating any sort of protein that’s not a hunk of steak or a chicken nugget. How is it that I need to have a glass of wine and flattery from my friends in order to try out an order of breaded and fried tripe, but I’m okay with eating the occasional fast-food hamburger that’s the product of more appalling processes and chemicals than I can wrap my head around? What can I say, my food tastes are a work in progress.
Fortunately, though liver is something that I would normally do the polite, “no, thank you” to, I have the good grace of a mom who knows better. When she started making this recipe of pate, everyone in my family—even my father with the weird food tastes who previously gawked at the mention of it—was spooning it onto crisped toasts. Granted, I’m not saying that if you make this it will convert even the most stubborn. See paragraph #1 if you need a reminder of how my friends received this.
But the point is, if you’re on the edge of trying this or if you’d like to expand your horizons a little bit outside the usual hot-dog-or-hamburger conception of meat, give this recipe a try. The livers are soaked in milk, which supposedly rounds out any strong flavors—or something like that. After that, the livers are sauteed with a good amount of fat, onions and some aromatics. A good bit of Cognac helps things along, of course. This mixture is then pureed with some cold butter chunks, which along with giving that always-lovely taste, make the pate silky-smooth and buttery (for lack of a better word).
After they set in the fridge, the little tubs of pate are ready to be spread out onto any toasted and crunchy pieces of bread that you have. You could sprinkle some chopped pieces of parsley on top to garnish it, as the original recipe suggested, but to be honest with you, this pate is a measly off-gray color that doesn’t help its reputation very much at all. But oh well, we all can’t be star beauties now, can we? Liver may not be, or even sound, like the prettiest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen. But all I can say is go ahead and give it a try, and even if it doesn’t please you, keep on giving it a try every once in awhile anyway. I’d like to think most of our food tastes are works in progress, to a certain extent.
Chicken Liver Pâte
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
If you want a more classically French pate, substitute the four tablespoons of olive oil that are used in sauteeing the livers for butter.
1 pound fresh chicken livers
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Cognac
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Clean the livers by trimming them of any excess fat and connective tissue. Add them to a medium bowl with the milk and let soak for two hours. Drain well, and lightly pat the chicken livers with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
In a large saute skillet, melt the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the chicken livers, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are browned on the outside but still slightly pink on the inside, about 5 minutes. Add the Cognac and continue to cook it all together until most of the liquid has evaporated and the livers are cooked through, about another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaves.
Once the liver mixture has cooled slightly, puree it through a food processor fitted with a steel blade until the mixture is completely homogeneous, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add in the cold chunks of butter and pulse until it is all blended and smooth, about 7 to 8 pulses, or so. Pour the pate into 6 4-ounce individual ramekins or small molds, or divide among larger ramekins, if you’d like. Smooth and even out the tops with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours. Serve with toasted, crusty bread.