August 23, 2012

Devine Eats

I cannot believe that in over two years of posting on this blog I have never posted about this chicken club salad. I'm embarrassed.  Even more so because it's now showing  up in this hastily photographed state.  I had to snap this with my phone before I even finished mixing it all together because I knew the second that it was ready, it would disappear in the blink of an eye.  My apologies for a messy bowl and unevenly distributed dressing.

Chicken club salad is the food of gods. This is not an exaggeration. Right up there with the perfection of a summertime BLT or this lovely dish of Vietnamese noodles, stir fried beef and veggies, this salad has been a favorite from first bite. I've made it for friends and roommates who have in turn made it for their friends or special someones and every last one of those people has proclaimed this "salad" as devine perfection. I can give you references if you don't believe me, or you can just go and make it yourself. Like, right now.

You might think, after taking a quick glance at the ingredient list, that this is merely a salad or panzanella form of a BLT, but in fact it's a whole different beast.  Sure, it has brightly acidic tomatoes, and bacon, and mayonaise and toasted bread but then that mayonaise gets transformed when it's blended with basil and yogurt and lemon juice.  And there are cubes of gently poached chicken and thin rings or green onion dotted throughout.  This is nothing like that classic sandwich.  I'll repeat: this is the food of the gods.

A recent search for the original recipe lead me to a Food Network page saying the contents I was searching for could no longer be found.  Which would really be a shame, except I have here my version, one I've tweaked over the years and I think is even better.  There are more croutons for more crunch!  I use half mayonaise (Best Foods only, please!) and half plain yogurt for the basil dressing and then slather the whole thing over the salad instead of a measly 1/2 cup.  And the bread, use whatever your heart desires as long as it has some structure to it.  One time I used an Italian loaf with lemon zest in it and it was heavenly.

You're welcome.  I single handedly just saved the internet.

Chicken Club Salad
adapted from Sara Moulton

There are several elements to assemble here: poach the chicken, make the croutons, blend up the dressing, fry the bacon and cut up the veggies, but all of this can be done in advance if need be. Store the croutons in an air tight container, the veggies, dressing and chicken separately in the fridge but the bacon is probably best freshly crisped up. About 10 minutes before serving toss everything together in a big bowl and you're good to go.

6 to 8 servings

6 cups of 3/4-inch cubes day old country loaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices bacon, chopped
3 pounds whole chicken breasts OR 1½ pounds boneless/skinless breast, poached and the meat cut into bite-size pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions including the green part, sliced thinly
Quick Basil Mayonnaise, recipe follows
Salt and pepper

Quick Basil Mayonnaise:
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup plain yogurt 
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender blend together the basil, mayonnaise, yogurt and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl drizzle the bread cubes with the olive oil, tossing them to coat evenly, and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the bread cubes in a jelly-roll pan (or cookie sheet) and toast them in the middle of the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden.  Let them cool. 

In a skillet cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and transfer it with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. 

In a large bowl combine the chicken, tomatoes, scallions, bacon, quick basil mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, mix in croutons and let sit 5-10 minutes.

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