August 25, 2009

Light and Elegant Provençal Chicken Salad


If you are an adult who cooks for herself, day in and day out, the ultimate comfort may well be when someone else takes over. It feels like such a generous act. And if you are maybe feeling a little vulnerable, a little tired, a little world-weary, a dinner cooked by someone who loves you (or maybe even someone who doesn’t) is just what the doctor ordered.

So when I climbed off a country-bound bus and dropped my weekend bag in my mom’s kitchen, she could have served me Kraft mac and cheese to great applause. But because it is August and her garden is overrun with herbs and tomatoes, she was standing at a kitchen counter piled high with herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers and putting together this salad in a large, wide wooden bowl.

Our experience of food is so often impacted by a confluence of factors. If we are heartbroken or lovesick, the greatest delights can fall on mute taste buds. But sometimes, timing and mood come together in the right moment and flavors are experienced with a greater than usual sensation. Say, for instance, we are famished and have been living on a diet of cold cereal and tepid spaghetti. Or more often, are simply tired, feeling perhaps a little worse for wear. That’s when the moment and the dish conspire to really amaze us.

I think I had thirds when my mom served this dish to us on that hot night. The creaminess of the vinaigrette, the luscious poached chicken, the bright quintessential summer flavors of tomatoes and fresh herbs: It was exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment.

Weeks later, I think it was the exactly the right thing yet again when I served it on an even hotter night to a gathering of friends in our little apartment. Our air-conditioner was chugging along, and our guests were airing themselves out to the tune of the strawberry-black pepper cocktails and an equally potent concoction of pear juice, champagne, ginger and bourbon they brought in tow (I love overachiever dinner guests!). We had little nibbles of baguette with goat cheese and peach, then little sips of a cold corn soup. And then we moved to the dining room table set directly in front of the air-conditioner for plates of chicken salad, steamed potatoes and salad. I can’t speak for my dinner companions as to the confluence of factors that affected their esteem for the dish, but to me, it was exactly the right thing at the right moment.

These recipes are adapted from a French cookbook my aunt gave my mom many years ago that I don’t know the name of. Maybe my mom will jump in and share the title? Mom? Do you read this blog?

Provençal Vinaigrette
Makes 1 pint

2 eggs
1 ½ cups olive or canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup wine vinegar
2 teaspoons anchovy paste or half of 2-ounce can anchovy fillets

Using a blender or food processor, whip eggs until light and frothy. Add salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and anchovy paste. Blitz. Gradually add oil in a thin stream and process until mixture thickens. The dressing may need thinning with 1/2 teaspoon water. Chill at least 45 minutes.

Provençal Chicken Salad
Serves 6-8

4 bone-in chicken breasts
2 6½ ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
¾ cup tightly packed basil leaves, shredded
1 ½ cups Provencale vinaigrette
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
juice of half a lemon

Poach chicken breasts in water until just cooked, 20-25 minutes. Shred coarsely with two forks (bonus points: simmer the poaching liquid with onion, bay leaf, and carrot, if you have them, and freeze for a light stock).

Combine chicken and artichoke hearts in a large bowl along with some of the artichoke marinade. Add some of the vinaigrette and toss to mix well. If preparing ahead of time, refrigerate at this point.

When ready to serve, add remaining vinaigrette, basil, parsley, salt, and tomatoes; gently toss. Squeeze lemon juice over top; toss again. I served this over a bed of steamed baby potatoes which I had tossed with a little of the vinaigrette. Any leftovers on a slice of toasted sourdough would make a splendid lunch for one.

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  • Sarah: How positvely WONDERFUL this sounds and looks! I sat down to catch up on my blog reading before heading out to the grocery store, and how lucky for me that I did. This will be tonight’s dinner! Many thanks to you, Sarah.6 years ago

  • Oh, you’re so welcome. I love when I get inspired to make something right before a trip to the grocery store.6 years ago

  • Sara Rose: Sooooooo you and Sebastian are gonna move out here, live with us so we can have our own little commune and you’re going to cook stuff like this for me, right? Because I could really use someone making me something like this right about now. Muah!6 years ago

  • Lisa (dinner party): It was exactly the right thing at the right moment. I especially loved the artichokes, which kind of blended in with the chicken, a happy surprise when I bit into one. Thanks for the recipe–now I don’t have to ask you for it!6 years ago

  • Sara Rose, Sounds about right! I hear Vermillion has a low cost of living and a high employment rate. Oh, and that you have games that are like “poker for bimbos.” Can I get a dog?

    Oh Lisa, I am so glad to hear that! And yeah, those artichokes kind of go undercover, don’t they? xx6 years ago

  • Sara Rose: We played poker for bimbos last night. Darned skipp you can get a dog.6 years ago

  • EB: I love when you wax poetic about tomatoes….6 years ago

  • Sarah: Holy Toledo! I made it earlier today, and we just finished eating it. As in, eating ALL of it. What a winner of a recipe! The dressing is nothing short of divine. And I love artichokes in any form. Yum!6 years ago

  • Erin: I love recipe directions that include the word “blitz.” This looks mighty tasty, Sarah. Thanks for sharing.6 years ago

  • Beverly: Sounds delish! I can’t wait to try it! Now, how about the recipe for the cocktails, too? Yum!6 years ago

  • fefe: cocktail recipe here too please :)6 years ago

  • Allison Conley: Sarah, the wonderful little cookbook is at home in the pantry, and I am at work, sneaking a peek at your blog – I will note the author and title this evening!
    Remember I made the salad with a box of spaghetti – I think the salad improves if you mix it all up – including the pasta and a lot of the dressing -and let it sit in the refrigerator. Feeds more brothers that way too!6 years ago

  • Lisa (dinner party): For those interested in the strawberry-black pepper-tequila combo, I posted the recipe here:

    Can’t speak for the other one, but it was deelicious.6 years ago

  • Sarah, Oh yay! SO great to hear when people make something and love it. Isn’t that dressing heavenly?6 years ago

  • EgonBlue: The Wagon Wheel Flat – (i.e., the pear juice, champagne, ginger and bourbon whatever)
    It is easier to eyeball with the shaker in hand than to describe in units of measure but here’s the general idea (makes two cocktails):
    In a pint glass 1/3 full of ice mix:
    – 2 shots of bourbon
    – Prosecco (or champagne) up to about 2/3 full
    – top off with unsweetened pear juice
    – press about 1 Tbsp of shredded or finely sliced fresh ginger between two spoons (should render a tsp of ginger juice)
    Mix gently (since it is fizzy) by pouring from one pint glass to another.
    Strain into two cocktail glasses.
    Squeeze a little lemon juice on top and garnish with a wide strip of lemon zest.
    If you under-poured and didn’t make enough to fill the glasses, bump it up with prosecco or pear juice as you prefer.
    Exclaim, “yummy!!”
    Twirl about your living room.
    Get dizzy.
    Fall down.
    Bonk your head.
    Pass out.
    Dream of faeries and sprites dancing on your nose.
    Awake disoriented.
    Mix another batch.6 years ago

  • Yeah, that sounds about right. Delightful!6 years ago

  • rakiya: i just stumbled upon your amazing site a couple of days ago. i tried out the provencal chicken salad last night and it was amazing!! thanks so much for sharing.5 years ago

  • Hi Rakiya! Thanks for stopping by! I love when people comment on recipes from a few months ago, because I’ve usually forgotten about them, but this is so, so delicious. So glad you liked it!5 years ago

  • Tiffany: why is the sald divided in the ingredients? is some put in the chicken water and some when you serve?4 years ago

  • Tiffany, Not sure I understand your question, but the salad recipe is divided between the vinaigrette recipe and the actual components of the salad. Hope that helps!4 years ago

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A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
- Elsa Schiaparelli