Friday, August 11, 2006

Summer Foods, Part I - Chicken Salad

Hm...I haven't been posting here much of late. Guess that has something to do with crazy travel schedules, busy times at work, and getting my own blog back up and kicking. But there is still cooking to be done!

As the summer comes to a close, it's time to do a quick review of top shelf summer dishes before getting into some tastiness for the fall tailgate season. Today - my recipe, only slightly stolen, for Tarragon Chicken Salad.

Start with 3lb of chicken leg quarters (for a wallet-friendly balance of white and dark meat), and cook them any way you want. However, while I normally do not advocate the boiling of any meat, in this case a hot water bath is just what the doctor ordered. All the boiling will leave the meat falling off the bones, and as a bonus, you'll have high quality homemade chicken stock as a leftover! The boiling should take somewhere in the ballpark of 90 minutes to get the chicken nice and melty.

Once the chicken is done (and cooled), shred until you just can't shred anymore! Some people prefer to chop the chicken, and to those people I say - go back to Russia. Chicken salad is the poultry version of pork barbeque - the only proper way to do it is to shred the meat. You can be a sissy and do this with a fork, but I prefer to do it by hand - it makes it a lot easier to grab morsels off the bones and to remove skin.

Now, for the remainder of the salad ingredients. As with just about every other thing I cook, I seek a balance of flavors and a balance of textures. To that end, I add about 1 1/2 cups of diced celery, 2 cups of diced Granny Smith apples, and 1 cup of sliced radishes (or red onion if you can't find them) to the chicken. The combination gives sweet, tart, spice, and most importantly, crunch to balance the soft chicken.

While the dry goods will contribute some flavor, you definitely want most of the flavor to come from the dressing. I combine: 2 cups of light mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of that chicken stock you just created, 4 tbsp of dried tarragon, 1 tbsp of dried dill, and 1 tbsp of dried oregano. If you want a bit of kick, feel free to add 1 tsp of cayenne as well - but as much as I like spice, I don't include that. Mix well, then stir it into the dry goods.

Voila! Homemade chicken salad - and a lot of it - that will be good for lunches all week and a picnic for your friends on Saturday. What's that? Chicken salad won't last six days in the fridge? Of course it will. If the chicken is cooked, it's good for a week in the fridge. The mayo would in and of itself be good for months in the fridge. The only real risk are the vegetables, but they will only go bad if exposed to water and oxygen - the oil-based mayonnaise sauce surrounding them will prevent that, so long as you keep a good lid on the tupperware. So don't worry about it.

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