Chicken salad sampler: 3 ways to make a colorful, delicious meal

THE WASHINGTON POSTJune 18, 2014 

What color is your chicken salad? The option-happy dish enjoys year-round rotation but seems to come into its own in warm weather. With the right combination of ingredients - starting, say, with a rotisserie bird - you can skip cooking altogether.

Avoiding mayonnaise these days? Greek yogurt or mashed avocado can stand in as a creamy component, or you can go the vinaigrette route.

Is crunch a must-have? Besides the stalwart celery, a world of nuts and radishes and greens is at your disposal. Natural sweetness can play off any tang or tartness once you include grapes, mango, dried fruit or a touch of honey.

POTATO AND CHICKEN SALAD WITH SALSA VERDE

Serves 2. The salsa verde can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

This can be an easy weeknight entree as well as picnic fare. Adding a fresh herb - in this case, a mint sprig - to the cooking water is a small step that makes a big difference.

FOR THE SALSA VERDE:

1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves

1/2 cup loosely packed dill sprigs

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Freshly cracked black pepper

FOR THE SALAD:

6 fingerling potatoes

1 sprig mint

Kosher salt

2 cooked chicken breast halves, cut into thick strips or shredded

1 tablespoon capers (preferably salt-packed), rinsed and drained

2 ounces baby arugula leaves

For the salsa verde: Combine the parsley, mint, dill, oil, mustard, lemon juice and pepper in a food processor; pulse just until coarsely chopped.

For the salad: Combine the potatoes, the sprig of mint and a generous pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Add enough cool water to cover by at least 1 inch, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender enough to pierce with a sharp knife.

Drain; cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and return them to the (empty) saucepan over low heat, along with the chicken and capers. Toss to incorporate and cook just long enough to warm everything through. Turn off the heat.

Add the salsa verde to the saucepan and toss gently to coat.

Divide the arugula between plates. Top with the dressed salad. Serve right away.

Nutrition per serving: 490 calories, 32 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 31 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.

SAFFRON CHICKEN, LEMON AND GREEN BEAN SALAD

4 servings (makes 6 cups). The lemon can be poached and refrigerated up to 5 days in advance. The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

It's hard to believe that such a quick marinade accounts for such bright color and flavor in the chicken. But the subtle star of the dish is the lemon peel, mellowed and tenderized by poaching.

1 lemon (preferably unwaxed), scrubbed well

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

Pinch saffron threads, crumbled

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

About 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (tenderloins removed), trimmed of visible fat

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon honey

Freshly ground black pepper

Use a fork to prick the lemon in 3 or 4 places. Place in a small saucepan along with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cover with water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 50 minutes or until quite tender. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together the saffron, mint, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a gallon-size plastic zip-top bag. Add the chicken and seal. Massage to coat; let it marinate (at room temperature) while you prep the beans.

Set up a steamer over a few inches of barely bubbling water (over medium heat). Place the beans inside; cover and steam for 4 minutes or until crisp-tender and a brighter shade of green. Cool, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces, transferring them to a mixing bowl as you work.

Grease a large skillet with cooking oil spray and place it over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the marinated chicken. (It's OK if some marinade remains on the chicken; discard any remaining marinade.) Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook on the second side for 6 to 8 minutes or as needed, until the chicken is cooked through and nicely browned. Cool, then cut into bite-size pieces, transferring them to the bowl of green beans.

Slice off and discard the ends of the lemon, then cut the fruit in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the flesh and pulp. Cut the remaining peel (with pith) into thin slices, then into 1/4-inch pieces, adding them to the bowl as you work. Add the thyme.

Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the honey in a liquid measuring cup, then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to form an emulsified dressing. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the lemon-chicken mixture and toss to incorporate. Serve at room temperature.

Nutrition per serving: 340 calories, 35 g protein, 17 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar

PECAN CHICKEN SALAD

12-14 servings; makes 13 to 14 cups. Refrigerate the chicken salad for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days before serving.

A classic combination of pecans, celery and grapes.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, patted dry

3 cups no-salt-added chicken broth, heated to almost boiling

1 pound seedless green grapes, some cut in half

1 1/2 cups pecan halves, toasted (see NOTE)

1 cup diced celery

1 cup chopped fresh dill, plus a few sprigs for garnish

1 cup regular or low-fat sour cream (do not use nonfat)

1 1/4 cups regular or low-fat mayonnaise (do not use nonfat)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 bunches watercress (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the chicken breast halves in a single layer in a shallow baking dish, then pour in the broth. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper over the baking dish; bake for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate to cool; discard the broth. Shred the chicken into bite-size pieces, placing them in a large mixing bowl as you work, and add the grapes, pecans, celery and chopped dill; toss to incorporate.

Whisk together the sour cream and mayonnaise in a medium bowl, then scrape it into the bowl with the chicken. Toss to coat, then season well with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Arrange beds of watercress on individual plates, if desired; top with equal portions of the chicken salad. Garnish with sprigs of dill. Serve right away.

NOTE: Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; toast at 325 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

Nutrition per serving, 390 calories, fat 20 g, saturated fat 3 g, cholesterol 85 mg, sodium 450 mg, total carbohydrates 19 g, dietary fiber 2 g, sugar 10 g, protein 34 g

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