Thursday, July 7, 2011

2 Recipe #277: Grilled Chicken Salad with Walnut-Dijon Vinaigrette

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Made this for dinner tonight. On sweltering hot and humid days like the ones we've been having lately (!), it feels especially good to eat light. :-D

Another nice thing about this salad is that much of the prep work can be done advance. That'll make the prep work seem to go by even faster, which means it'll be ready to eat a lot faster as well. ;)

Grilled Chicken Salad with Walnut-Dijon Vinaigrette

Chicken Marinade Ingredients:
1 lb. thinly sliced, skinless boneless chicken breasts, rinsed, defatted, tendons removed, patted dry, and then cut on the bias (i.e., diagonally and against the grain) into 1"x 2 1/2" strips*
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for coating the pan)

Salad Dressing Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and minced (about 1 medium-sized shallot)
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) walnut pieces, slightly crushed
1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. water
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper chili flakes, or to taste

Salad Ingredients:
1 jumbo-sized heart of romaine, sliced crosswise into 2"-long sections
2 c. organic mixed (i.e., mesclun) spring greens
1/2 c. red bell peppers, sliced into 1 1/2" long strips
1/2 c. red onion, halved and then thinly sliced into crescent slivers (about 1/2 small red onion)
1 1/2 c. unpeeled cucumber, scored lengthwise with fork tines all the way around, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds & then halved (about 1 small cucumber)
2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded (optional)

Directions: Marinate the chicken first, preferably up to a day in advancePlace all chicken marinade ingredients -- minus the olive oil -- into a resealable plastic/Ziploc bag. Seal tightly and massage the spices and other marinade ingredients into the chicken from the outside of the bag. If you plan to serve the salad right away, set it aside. Otherwise, refrigerate. In either case, you should ideally allow the chicken to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving time. (The longer you marinate the chicken, the more time the various flavors will have to meld together, which typically leads to a tastier outcome.)

Make salad dressing, which can also be made up to a day in advance: Place all salad dressing ingredients into a food processor and pulse until fully emulsified, about 1-2 minutes. It's OK for the walnuts to be pulverized into finely ground bits but avoid pulsing too much as the chopped pieces of shallots and garlic should still be recognizable. :) Please note, if you'll be making the dressing in advance and then refrigerating it, be sure to reconstitute the dressing with additional water when you remove it from the fridge, and then mix it all together until well-combined, as the refrigerator tends to dry out and thicken liquid ingredients.

Cook the chicken: About 10-15 minutes before cooking, remove bag of marinated chicken from the refrigerator, and set it aside to allow it to reach room temperature first before cooking. (This ensures even heat distribution so that the meat will be uniformly cooked.) Heat 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil large (11"), square, nonstick grill pan (with a ridged/grooved bottom) on high heat until it glistens. (Test by flicking a small drop of water into the pan; if it sizzles, the pan is ready.) Reduce heat to low and add half of the chicken (i.e., 1/2 lb.) to pan, evenly spacing apart the chicken pieces so that they don't crowd the pan and will finish cooking at around the same time. Cook chicken  for 4-5 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear and chicken turns a nice, golden brown.* If oil starts to crackle and pop fairly often, then you'll probably need to turn down the heat a bit more; regardless, you might want to use a splatter guard. When chicken is ready, transfer to a plate and set aside to cool. Repeat procedure with remaining 1/2 lb. chicken and 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil.

Assemble salad: Meanwhile, while chicken is cooling, prep all of the vegetables for the salad and place them into a large salad bowl. Just before serving, add chicken (which should still be slightly warm), salad dressing (using only just enough to cover), and 2 Tbsp. shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (if using) to the salad bowl, and toss until dressing has been evenly distributed throughout. (Salad should be lightly coated with dressing, not drenched in it, so it's best to add a few tablespoonfuls at a time and then mix to avoid saturating salad. [Of course, it's a lot easier to add a small amount first and then, if need be, add more later, than the other way around. ;) ] If you have some leftover salad dressing, it's no big deal; just refrigerate it and reserve for future use.) Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 4 main course servings. (Each portion of salad should contain 4 oz. chicken, which is the typically recommended portion size per person per meal.)

Chef's Notes: *You could also try making the chicken in a George Foreman grill, to further reduce the amount of olive oil used in this recipe. (I haven't yet tried this technique for this particular recipe, but judging from my other "Foreman forays,"  I imagine it'll probably work fairly well.) Even if you select this particular grilling method, you'll probably still need to baste/brush the chicken with a small amount of olive oil on both sides, to keep it from sticking to the grill. Sometimes even food will stick to so-called nonstick surfaces. ;) Of course, the olive oil also helps to keep the chicken moist and also enhances its flavor. You don't need to use a lot, so this way, you can use it sparingly and still produce a quality end result.

I'd strongly advise against cooking the chicken in advance and then refrigerating it. Again, the refrigerator will dry out the chicken, and there's not much you can do to salvage it after that. ;) Of course, it'll taste immeasurably better fresh.


Malli said...

Love the simplicity of this beautiful and healthy salad!

Cyberpenguin said...

Thanks so much, Malli! Cold food tastes particularly good on a hot day, eh?! :)

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