Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon

It’s true. To my mind, Nancy Silverton can do no wrong. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. However, her new book, Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking of which I received a review copy, had me feeling uncertain. Chi Spacca is Italian for “the butcher” and is the name of her very meat-focused restaurant in Los Angeles. And, my cooking isn’t very meat-focused. Regardless, I wanted to read it because it’s from Nancy Silverton, and I dove in with an open mind. Despite the name, the food isn’t entirely Italian nor is it entirely meat-based. The salads and vegetables are treated with the same degree of care. From the start, from the very first recipe in the book, I was hooked. That recipe is for Focaccia di Recco, and Silverton provides a detailed explanation of what it is and why she became interested in it. I had heard about this thin, cheese-filled, crispy type of focaccia before but was never inspired to make it until I read about it again here. The recipe is also extremely detailed and includes specific recommendations for the type of pan to use, the type of cheese buy, and how to stretch the dough as thin as it needs to be. I jumped right into making it. The dough stretching process was a lot like make strudel, and it was as fun as I expected it to be. The result was delicious too. Of course, I got detoured by the crispy bread recipe, but for meat lovers, there are detailed instructions for seasoning, grilling, and cooking on the stovetop with recipes covering beef and veal, pork, lamb, duck, rabbit, and chicken. I’m especially interested in the Pollo alla Diavola on Toast recipe in which a halved chicken is roasted on thick slices of toast. There’s also a chapter just for fish, and it was delightful to see salmon steaks being used rather than filets. The chapters for contorni and salads got my full attention as did the dolci chapter. One of Silverton’s recipes that has been in my head for years is the butterscotch budino. In this new book, it’s recreated in a simpler, family-style form. Before getting to that though, the Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette called to me. 

I’d been craving Indian flavors, and the thought of satisfying that craving in salad form sounded ideal. Every recipe in this book includes careful, step-by-step instructions with guidance for plating and serving. In fact, in the head note of each recipe, you’ll even find suggestions for what type or types of platters and/or bowls you’ll need for serving. I do appreciate that kind of specificity, but you can take it or leave it. For this salad, chicken was roasted with garam masala, allowed to cool, and then shredded into long pieces. I love using preserved lemons and might have added a bit more than called for to the shredded chicken and toasted walnuts. The mixed lettuces were to include escarole, but I wasn’t able to find it that day. I used frisee and little gem lettuces along with cilantro leaves. Following the instructions, the salad was built up in layers of dressed lettuces, chicken and walnuts, chopped preserved lemon, and cilantro. 

The tall, layered salad was full of flavor with the Indian-spiced chicken and bursts of preserved lemon, and the crunchy walnuts were a nice addition. There are more salads for every season that I want to try like the Roasted Beets with Chicories, Yogurt, and Lemon Zest. And, there are vegetable dishes like the Roasted Cabbage with Bagna Cauda Yogurt and Crunchy Grains on my list as well. Yes, it’s a meat-focused book, but there’s a lot here for me too. 

Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette 
Excerpted from Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking by Nancy Silverton, Ryan DeNicola, and Carolynn Carreno. Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Silverton. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 

When I am in San Francisco, I always try to make time to eat at Boulettes Larder, a one-of- a-kind food shop/restaurant in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I have never eaten there and not been inspired. When I ordered their Indian chicken salad, I loved it so much I basically tried to replicate it as closely as possible, right down to the mix of escarole and Little Gem lettuces that are the base of the salad. When shopping for escarole, look for “blanched escarole” at farmers’ markets and specialty food stores. Blanched escarole is light green, almost white, in color, and sweeter and crunchier than traditional escarole. It is grown the same way white endive and white asparagus are grown, by shielding the young plants from direct sunlight, so they don’t go through photosynthesis, which is what gives all plants their green color. If you can’t find blanched escarole, buy conventional escarole and remove the dark, floppy outer leaves as described in the recipe. You will need a large platter or large wide-mouth bowl to serve this salad. 

Serves 4 

For the Chicken Salad 
1/4 cup shelled walnuts, halves or pieces 
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound) 
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
2 tablespoons Garam Masala 
4 preserved lemon halves 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1 teaspoon finishing-quality extra-virgin olive oil 
For the Vinaigrette 
1/4 cup peeled and minced shallots 
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
Fresh coarsely ground black pepper 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
For the Green Salad 
1 head escarole (preferably “blanched” escarole) 
1 head Little Gem lettuce 
1/2 lemon 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 cup micro cilantro (or finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves) 

To prepare the chicken salad, adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325°F. 

Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re toasted and fragrant, shaking the baking sheet and rotating it from front to back halfway through that time so the nuts brown evenly. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside until they are cool enough to touch. Finely chop the walnuts. 

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. 

While the nuts are toasting, to make the vinaigrette, combine the shallots, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and a few turns of black pepper in a small bowl. Gradually add the extra-virgin olive oil, whisking constantly. 

Season the chicken breast on both sides with the salt. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the garam masala on the chicken breast, rubbing it to coat both l sides evenly. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven for about 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through that time so the chicken browns evenly, until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside for the chicken to cool to room temperature. Shred the chicken into the longest shreds possible into a medium bowl. 

Rinse the preserved lemons to remove the sugar and salt and drain well. Use a paring knife to remove the pulp, pith, and seeds and discard, so you are left with only the bright yellow peel. Finely chop the peel and add 1 tablespoon to the bowl with the chicken. Add half of the walnuts, the remaining 1 tablespoon of the garam masala, and the red pepper flakes. Drizzle with the finishing-quality olive oil and toss to distribute the ingredients and coat them with the oil. Taste and add more salt if desired. 

To prepare the green salad, cut off and discard the root end of the escarole. Remove the dark green outer leaves until only the tender, light yellow leaves remain. Tear the remaining leaves from the core and put them into a large wide-mouth bowl. Remove and discard any unappealing outer leaves from the head of the Little Gem lettuce. Tear the remaining leaves from the core and drop the leaves into the bowl with the escarole, discarding the core. Squeeze the lemon half over the lettuces, sprinkle with the salt, and toss to coat the lettuces. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat, gently massaging the leaves with your hands to coat them with the vinaigrette. Add the remaining chopped preserved lemon peel and half of the cilantro and toss gently to distribute them. 

To serve, building the salad in three layers and choosing the largest leaves first, arrange one-third of the leaves to cover the surface of a large platter or wide-mouth bowl. Scatter one-third of the chicken-walnut mixture over the lettuces, leaving the edges of the lettuce layer visible. Scatter one-third of the remaining chopped walnuts, one-third of the chopped preserved lemon, and one-third of the cilantro from the bowl the salad was tossed in over the salad. Continue, building two more layers the same as the first one, using the medium leaves for the second layer and the smallest leaves for the top layer, and making each layer smaller than the one before. Sprinkle the reserved undressed cilantro over the salad.

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