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Something to Cluck About

June 2, 2010 By:
Keri Fisher, JE Feature
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When I was a kid, chicken salad was low on the sandwich totem pole. It always seemed more afterthought than real food: All the leftover bits of chicken (including, invariably, some unidentifiable chewy parts), smothered in mayonnaise and garnished with the occasional speck of celery.

But if you start with the right ingredients, plain old chicken salad can be so much more.

The same roasted chicken that graces my family table at least once a week during the colder months is perfect for summer dinners as well -- dinners of chicken salad. I usually roast the bird the night before (when it's not so hot); it will keep in the refrigerator for about three days, which gives me plenty of time to make the salad.

Since chicken is so mild, I like to pair it with strong-flavored ingredients. Curried chicken salad is accented with lime and features crunchy apples and sweet raisins; Thai chicken salad is slightly sweet, slightly sour, and as spicy as you want it to be (in my house, that's pretty spicy); barbecued chicken salad pairs a tangy sauce with sweet corn and red peppers.

These salads are all so versatile; I serve them over a bed of mesclun, rolled inside a whole wheat tortilla or spread on a rye crisp. Sometimes, I make just one to keep in the fridge for a quick sandwich during the week; other times, I make all three for a chicken-salad sampler.

Start with four large, split, bone-in chicken breasts. Set the oven to 400°. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with two tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Arrange breasts in an even layer on a baking sheet. Cook until the internal temperature registers 165° -- about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool the chicken completely on the baking sheet.

When poultry is cool, remove and discard the skin, and then remove the meat from the bone. You should get about 4 cups of picked chicken.

Now, for the salads.

Barbecue Chicken Salad
Roasting the corn adds a nice flavor, although any cooked corn will do (including leftovers). To roast, toss 4 ears with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and salt and pepper. Roast at 450° until tender and some kernels begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Cool corn before removing it from cob.

Dressing Ingredients:

3/4 cup ketchup
3 Tbsps. cider vinegar
2 Tbsps. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. dark-brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
11/2 Tbsps. vegetable oil

Salad Ingredients:

4 cups roasted chicken, chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
2 medium red peppers, diced
2 cups cooked corn (from about 4 ears)
2 medium jalapeño peppers, minced
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Mix well.

In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients and mix well.

Add the dressing and toss to coat evenly.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Curried Chicken Salad

Dressing Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise (light or regular)
3 Tbsps. curry powder
juice of 1 lime

Salad Ingredients:

4 cups roasted chicken, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced (about 2 cups)
2 medium red apples, diced
1 cup raisins
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Mix well.

In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients and mix well.

Add the dressing and toss to coat evenly.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Thai Chicken Salad
         Dressing Ingredients:

1/3 cup sugar
juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)
2 small dried red chili peppers, minced (or up to 4 if you like the dressing spicy)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. minced ginger


2 Tbsps. fish sauce

Salad Ingredients:

4 cups roasted chicken, shredded
2 medium carrots, grated
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 red pepper, sliced very thin
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
2 Tbsps. chopped mint
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin on the bias
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in 1/3 cup hot water. Set aside to cool. When cool, add the remaining dressing ingredients and mix well.

In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients but the peanuts; mix well.

Add the dressing and toss to coat evenly.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with peanuts just before serving.

Serves 4.

Keri Fisher is a food writer and the co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: kerilfisher@gmail.com.

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