Thursday, May 10, 2007

The best chicken salad (with honey and mustard)

This is one of my favourite late spring/early summer suppers. It is summery in that it is a salad, but substantial enough that you don't feel like you've been short-changed when you are hungry. I've even served this for supper to strapping young men and they too seem satisfied (...but maybe they are just being polite).

It doesn't actually matter what you put into it. Whatever is in the fridge will do. But there are certain key elements. The chicken with its honey and mustard marinade. Roasted red onions or shallots. Smoked bacon. Avocado. I include here the basic recipe that I put together for my mother and I on Monday night. I haven't included quantities - you'll know how much to throw in depending on the numbers! If you are weighing things out then you are defeating the object of an easy, throw-it-all-together supper.

1 chicken breast per person
Runny honey
Lemon juice
Dijon mustard
Wholegrain mustard

Baby new potatoes
Red onions or shallots (1 per person, if small)
Smoked bacon
Sugar snap peas
Green asparagus (English, when in season, is hugely preferable)
Pine nuts
Mixed leaves (I favour a mix of rocket, watercress and spinach)
Tomatoes (take your pick - I like sweet baby ones with lots of flavour)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place a baking tray in the oven with some olive oil in the base to heat up. Roughly chop red onions into wedges. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, seasoned with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar towards the end. ace
2. Slice chicken breasts into strips. Place into a bowl and drizzle over runny honey, equal quantities of Dijon and wholegrain mustard and a good squeeze of lemon juice. For 2, I would suggest a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of each mustard and half a lemon. Cover with film and put in fridge for half an hour.

3. Par-boil the new potatoes until just tender. Chop in half any large ones.
4. Whilst potatoes are cooking, sprinkle the pine nuts into a dry, non-stick frying pan and dry fry with no fat. When they start to brown, they are ready - remove them from heat. Keep a close eye on them as they turn from lightly bronzed to burnt in a matter of seconds!
5. Steam or boil both the asparagus tips and the sugar snap peas until just tender (al dente). Set to one side to cool a little.
6. Chop or snip the bacon into small pieces and fry in its own fat (add a little oil or butter if bacon very lean). When bacon nearly cooked, add a little fat and fry the potatoes.
7. Start to build the salad - leaves, cucumber, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, bacon, pine nuts....

8. Finally heat a little oil in a non-stick pan, slop in the chicken and cook gently until thoroughly cooked. Spoon over the salad and top with the asparagus as per the first picture.

Notes -
No dressing is needed due to the juices from the marinade, but a little balsamic vinegar may enhance the salad.

English asparagus is, in my mind, vastly superior to any other type. It is one of the things we do well. Let's celebrate it! The season is criminally short, so make the most of it. I also love it roasted and finished with olive oil, lemon juice and shavings of Parmesan.

Wine suggestions -

There are lots of flavours here. I'd be inclined to go with a fairly crisp white with no oak. Asparagus is the trickiest ingredient - it has a strong flavour which can make some wines taste unpleasantly metallic. The best match is sauvignon blanc. We drank Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 from Marlborough, New Zealand.

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