Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recipie: Chicken Salad.

Look, I never said I was the next Bobby Flay, alright? And yes, done right, Chicken salad is totally frickin' sweet! That said, it's basically a way to use up left over chicken. This isn't a bad thing. You could, if so inclined, cook chicken just for Chicken salad if it makes you feel better.

So anywho, this is good for left over or overcooked chicken. The mayonnaise and other ingredients make up for the dry meat if it's overcooked. Another trick is if you get a whole rotisserie chicken, the parts you don't eat can go in the salad. Any little scrap of meat you can scrape off the bones. In fact, this is usually considered juicier and sweeter. Breast- or thigh meat can be diced or chopped as long as it ends up in bite-sized pieces.

So... it's more of a method than a recipe, but here goes. Experimentation leads to inspiration, so go nuts.

Must haves:
Chicken meat (you saw that coming, didn't you?), diced, at least a handsful*, up to whole chicken
Diced Apple, about 1/3 as much as the meat***
Mayonnaise - a good blob.
House Seasoning (see recipe below)
Ground or rubbed Sage, a generous dash per handful of chicken (I love sage w/ chicken).
Generous dash of Paprika (NOT the hot Hungarian kind)
Salt and pepper to taste

Diced Celery, about 1/5 the amount of the meat**
Diced or shredded carrot, about 1/5 the meat.
Diced tomato flesh, about 1/5 the amount of meat #
Generous dash of Ginger powder
A squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

Toss everything but the mayo and seasonings in a mixing bowl so all the diced bits are mixed evenly. Squirt or spoon mayo and mix that in to coat everything evenly. You can't take any out, so err on the side of caution at first, add more until you get the consistency you like. Add seaonings, mix, taste. Add Salt, pepper, other seasonings as needed.

* a "Handsful" (notice the "S") is when you cup both hands together into a scoop. Not just one handful, but both handfuls together.
** so if you have 5 handfuls of chicken, use 1 handful of celery.
*** this is the "Secret Weapon" in my recipe. HoneyCrisp apples are best, or another crisp, juicy apple. It's a good textural contrast to the meat, and the juice masks any dryness in the meat. The sweetness also makes a tasty counterpoint to the seasonings.
# Avoid the watery pulp and seeds as these make the salad soggy and the seeds can be bitter.

Ok, here's a less schitzo ingredient list, but the amounts are guesses##:
2 cups diced chicken meat
1/2 cup diced apple
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 T house seasoning
1 t ground sage

mix as above.

## This is the dirty secret of cookbooks. real chefs and cooks don't measure anything, just take handsfuls and cups (drinking cups, not 8 oz liquid measuring cups) and whatnot and a dash of this and a pinch of that... cookbook writers estimate it all. That said, they are experts at making these approximations and the better ones test their recipes before publishing.
My point? Feel free to be fast and loose with recipes, especially if it's something you feel comfortable with. I usually follow a recipe exactly the first time, and see how it goes, make notes and mess with it the second time and see if it gets better (I'm batting about .900). The exception is in baking, which is more science than craft, so the recipe is more important in baking (especially if the baking recipe lists ingredients by weight, when it's most accurate).
See a better discussion of all this in Alton Brown's Beard-Award winning book, I'm Just Here for the Food.

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