On hot days in the summertime, I don't want to eat (or cook!) a hot meal. And one of my summer staples for dinner is chicken salad sandwiches in pita bread.
It doesn't sound very exciting. But years ago, when I lived in New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to get to spend a number of wonderful vacations on Nantucket Island. It's my favorite place in the world, and you can bet that I'll buy a house there the minute I win the lottery. Anyway, there used to be this great little gourmet deli there, called Que Sera Sara, and I happened to have the perfect chicken salad there one day. The minute the owner of that deli came out with a cookbook, I snapped it up and have been cooking things from it ever since.
Anyway, I make that chicken salad recipe all the time and we all love it. A batch makes enough for several meals. Here it is, the perfect, simple salad:
3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached until just tender and cooled to room temperature
5 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder (fresh garlic is too overpowering -- don't use it here)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 - 3 cups Best Foods (or other good quality) mayonnaise (I use the light and it's fine...and I confess, I don't measure so I'm not sure how much I use. I use enough to keep it all together but not so much that it's gloppy.)
1. Cut chicken breasts into 3/4 - 1 inch chunks, removing and discarding any tough tendons
2. Toss chicken, celery and grapes together in a large bowl. Add seasonings, and bind together mayonnaise.
3. Transfer to serving bowl and chill for at least an hour before serving.
Makes 6-8 servings.
To poach the chicken breasts, put them in a large pot of water, add a few splashes of white wine, and scatter in whatever left over veggies you have around: onion, celery, carrots, parsley. Add a dash of salt and a grind of pepper. Bring the pan to a full boil, boil for a minute or two, then turn the pot off and let the chicken finish cooking in the hot water. When the water has cooled, remove chicken to refrigerator. (You can save the stock for soup making, if you like.)
However, having made this wonderful salad several times so far, the other day I made another salad from the same cookbook, just for variety's sake. It was unusual and delicious, and I'll make it again. So here's an interesting variety, in case you become obsessed with chicken salad:
Chicken and Apricot Salad with Double Mustard Mayonnaise
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and cooled
1 cup dried apricots, cut into narrow strips
1/3 cream sherry
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the poached chicken breasts into 1 inch chunks and place in large mixing bowl.
2. Place apricots and sherry in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the apricots with liquid to the chicken.
3. Add celery, scallions, almonds, and rosemary to the chicken. Toss to combine.
4. Prepare the mayonnaise: In a food processor, place egg yolks, lemon juice and grainy mustard and process for 10 seconds. With machine running, pour the oils in a thin stream through the feed tube to make an emulsion. Add the honey mustard and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Bind the salad with the mayonnaise.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
** When I made this, I discovered I was out of olive oil and so used all canola oil. It turned out fine. I think I used about a cup of oil, total, not the amount here. Also, next time I might try omitting the sherry and just simmering the apricots in a bit of water. But this was very tasty. The fresh rosemary really made this.
If you try these recipes, I'd love to hear how you like them. And check out Sarah Leah Chase's "Nantucket Open House Cookbook" -- it's wonderful.