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?
Makes 1 pint
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
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.