Sometimes you just need that combination of cool refreshment and savory satisfaction. I think that’s when chicken salad comes in handy. It’s a casual summer treat, but it usually only comes about once you’ve had your fill of both types of extremes—too many cold, vegetable-based meals one day, and a whip-cracking, bulldozing heavy meal with meats or poultry another. I guess what I’m saying is that leftover, roasted chicken salad with crisp vegetables in a sandwich is that perfect yin-yang of summertime eating.
And it happens to be one of my specialties. I love it when you can claim not just a signature dish, but a type of dish as your forte when it comes to bringing stuff to parties. I’m the salsa master, one person might say, and everyone else will back off in reverence from bringing said specialty of another. Or, I’m the soup killah so you better watch out in the winter, because you never know what I’m going to put in a pot! Okay, maybe no one’s going to challenge that place your routine when the time comes, but it’s still a matter of pride, and principle.
I’m the chicken salad person. I take a great sense of personal and social responsibility for that. And I like to have fun with it, too, each time I get.
Most of the time, you don’t even know how such responsibilities happen. But I know precisely how this chicken salad responsibility fell into my lap. I sort of claimed it so, one time, and it just kept. I called for a picnic one day in late May or early June about six years ago, in Prospect Park. I said I was making chicken salad for sandwiches, and invited others to make their own chicken salads and we’d have plenty of freshly-baked bread to sample all of them, for fun. I called it a “Parknic” and wrote about it on this blog. Then I held another, which I wrote about as well. (In the time in between these posts, two people who had met at the first Parknic got married, and have remained my closest friends since.)
Over the years, I’ve refined and varied my chicken salads—from jerk or mustard-based ones to portobello or avocado-studded ones—without realizing I was becoming a scholar at the task. It was just all for fun.
I don’t think anything can go bad when you’re making a chicken salad. At the end of the day, this is just a recipe for one kind of chicken salad. I can’t tell you how to eat it, when to have it, who to eat it with or how to enjoy it best.
Sometimes I get wearied by the thought of recipes, or of (egad!) being a “recipe developer,” which is an honorable profession nowadays but to me it seems to smack of food production industries rather than making homemade meals on the fly. I am much more of a “recipe suggester” than a recipe developer, because I don’t expect you to always follow the cues word for word. I’d rather show by example what worked and when and why for me—which doesn’t have to be the case for you to a T. But perhaps get your own culinary engines revving.
So here’s to your chicken salads this year, and who knows what they may become in the ones to come. Whether zucchini or cucumber, curry powder or wasabi tickle your fancy, or a whole roasted chicken enjoyed previously come available, hope you enjoy it all. And savor the memories they make, not just for the eating.
Chicken Salad with Tomato and Artichoke
(makes about 8-10 servings)
3 – 3 1/4 lb whole chicken
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chicken pan drippings (juice and fat)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced and crushed
½ cup mayonnaise
2 celery stalks, finely diced
about 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions or shallots
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
¼ cup assorted fresh herbs, chopped (such as parsley, thyme, oregano, more rosemary)
Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, split the chicken by cutting straight through the center of the breast vertically. Splay the chicken open and season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan (at least 9” in diameter) with the tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the pan is hot, place the chicken skin side-down on the pan. Let cook without turning or moving the chicken about 5 minutes, or until the underside is golden-brown when peeking with tongs. Flip the chicken over carefully with tongs.
Transfer the cast-iron pan to the oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reads 170 when a thermometer is placed in between the thigh and leg. Lift chicken with tongs, letting any excess juices drip onto the pan, and transfer to a bowl. Let cool a few minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Pour the pan drippings into a small bowl and whisk. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. In another bowl, place the egg yolk, separated from its white entirely. Whisk in the grated garlic and lemon or lime juice. While whisking rapidly, slowly pour in a few drops of the chicken pan drippings. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle in the remaining chicken fat. Mixture should appear light in color and slightly thickened. Whisk in the mustard and mayonnaise, and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Pick the meat (and skin if you like) from the cooled chicken and coarsely chop. Combine with the chopped celery, scallion, optional sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs. Stir in the chicken fat aioli until thoroughly incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be kept refrigerated up to 1 day before serving.
(for 8-10 servings)
3 lb whole chicken: $14.00
2 stalks celery: $0.75
2 scallions: $0.35
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts: $2.00
1 cup grape tomatoes: $1.50
1/2 cup mayonnaise: $0.25
1 lemon: $0.25
1 egg yolk: $0.20
1 teaspoon mustard: $0.20
1 garlic clove: $0.10
2 Tablespoons olive oil: $0.20
Six brownie points: Pile the sandwich with lots of greens or do a tossed salad if you want to eat on the lighter side; or, if you’re feeling indulgent, add a slice of cheese along with it to a sandwich. This versatile, main-course salad is all about what you do with it and how much of it you eat, so treat it like a protein (which it provides).
Five maple leaves: I went with marinated artichoke hearts as a main attraction because these preserved vegetables are available year-round in a jar or can. It’s a bit early in the season to find many fresh vegetables to choose from, but hearty chicken can be found locally from a trusted source any time of the year.