Friday, September 12, 2008

The Salad Bar #1: Real Chicken Salad

I have a very distinct idea about what a salad consists of and it doesn’t include mayonnaise. When I hear the word salad I think tomatoes, fresh greens, carrots, onions, herbs, feta cheese and olives. One of the worst insults to a chef is slopping a bucket of ranch dressing on a beautifully crafted salad. One of the worst insults to a diner is presenting them with a browned, wilted wedge of iceberg lettuce, one thick slab of under ripe, tasteless tomato and shredded carrot. Ick. No wonder little Jimmy won’t eat his veggies. I wouldn’t either! Now I’m gonna show you how it’s done.

What you need:
  • big bowl
  • pair of tongs
  • sharp knife
  • fork
  • smallish bowl
  • frying pan
  • cutting board (I really shouldn’t have to mention this…)

NOTE: the chicken is the only “exact” measured ingredient.
  • 1lb skinless boneless chicken breasts or tenders
  • bag salad (aprox. 10oz or more)– I use baby romaine mix, but you can use any kind of salad greens. NOTE: there are 16oz to 1lb
  • tomato of any kind – I use a big handful of grape or cherry tomatoes
  • small handful of feta cheese
  • small handful of olives without pits – can be omitted if you don’t like olives
  • 1 spring onion chopped (scallions)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Serves 4 to 6

Step 1: Gentle-cooks start your stovetops

Put the pan on medium heat and add about a tablespoon of oil. If you’re watching your weight, like I always am, you should be careful about how much oil you use to fry the chicken. A little goes a long way. The thinner your chicken is, the faster it will cook. If you got the tenders they will cook up in no time and you can pretty much tell how done they are by looking at them.

The breasts are thicker, obviously, and need to be cooked longer. You can estimate how done the breasts are by pressing on the meat. See my “is it done yet” posting. You really should cook chicken all the way through, however don’t freak if you see a slight bit of pink. About 5 or 6 minutes on each side, the thicker the breast the longer you cook it. If you have a doubt about doneness don’t worry, you’re gonna cut open this bad boy anyway. Finish up cooking, set aside, and turn off the burner. I really shouldn’t have to tell you guys to make sure your heat is off when not in use. Wow…that’s a loaded statement.

Step 2: It dices AND slices…if it’s sharp anyway

I need to teach you people how to sharpen and keep your knives sharp. No you don’t need to cut through a metal can, no matter how much it reminds you of mom’s tuna casserole, but you do need to have a good sharp knife. I’ll not tolerate anyone buying a perfectly good tomato and then torturing it for an hour because your blade is as dull as the collective wit on America’s Next Top (anorexic) Model.

That said, make sure all your vegetables and salad greens are washed thoroughly. Hey, you don’t know who scratched what with which sweaty hand. Roughly chop the spring onion and tomato (if it’s large). Some people like heirloom tomatoes and some like beefsteak or vine varieties. I like cherry and grape, but I also grow my own so I’m a little (a lot) spoiled. If you prefer red onions to spring onions then go for it. Thinly slice the onion if it’s large enough.

Set your rinsed and dry enough to pass greens in that big bowl you have handy. Yes I use a salad spinner, yes it’s awesome, and yes you should think about getting one. Don’t hold your breath for the next useless-kitchen-gadget-of-the-week endorsement. Now, with your favorite dressing, or a balsamic and olive oil combination, add about a tablespoon of said tipple to the salad. Toss with tongs to coat. Add another. Toss. Now stop. This is all you need for right now. Why? Two reasons:

1. You only want to coat the salad greens enough so that every bite has a dressing enhanced flavor. You can add more after you finish assembling but it’s impossible to take away if you find you added too much.

2. I will not tolerate dressing whores on my website. If you wanna drown your veggies in kra(p)ft dressing, then sod off and bother someone else. We make good food here, not cafeteria leftovers.

Section off the greens into 4 or 6 bowls, however many people are eating. To each dish add the tomatoes, onions, feta and olives. I realize not everyone likes these toppings but treat your salad like a pizza. Dress it the way you like it. And FYI pepperoni is for cold antipasti, it is NOT salad food!

Step 3: Choppin Chicken

Get the chicken you fried up before and slice it up on the cutting board. Don’t worry if it’s a bit underdone. You can always throw it back in the pan on the burner for a couple more minutes or even finish it in the microwave. Place enough chicken on the plates for everyone eating. Now that you’re done with assembly you can add a bit more dressing. Believe me, less is more. And less on your waistline from too much creamy “Italian” (yeah right) the more pleased you’ll be when you look oh so hot in that bikini.


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