Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hold the Mayo


Those of you who know me are aware of my intense aversion to mayonnaise. Simply stated, I hate mayonnaise. And I am mystified by the millions of Europeans who think that mayonnaise is the best condiment for french fries. But hey, if they like it then that's all that matters.

So when I encountered a recipe for Chicken Salad a la Veronique some years ago, I was delighted to see that it incorporated two of my favorite ingredients--grapes and tarragon. Then I shuddered at the instruction calling for a cup of mayonnaise. So I invented my own version of La Veronique, which uses a light vinaigrette.

This is a perfect summertime meal that is healthy and full of bright, fresh flavors. Also, this is a useful luncheon recipe because you can make it ahead of time, even the day before, which will give you a lot more time to do other things, like drink a few cocktails by yourself before your guests arrive.

Chicken Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
1/2 medium red onion, cut into quarter inch dice or 1/2 cup diced shallots
20 red or green seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup seedless cucumber, cut into quarter inch dice
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 small head red leaf lettuce, or your favorite lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
6 pita breads, cut into wedges

In a large bowl combine the onion, grapes and cucumber. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, tarragon, mustard and garlic. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Place the bay leaves and peppercorns in a large saute pan with high sides. Lay the chicken on top in one layer. Add enough water to barely cover the chicken. Cover and simmer over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Tip: use uniformly sized breasts so that they cook at the same rate, no thicker than 2 inches.) Once cooked, remove chicken and place on cutting board. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces using two large forks. Add the chicken while still warm to the onion mixture. Remove garlic from the vinaigrette and pour the vinaigrette over the chicken. Mix well but gently. Cover and chill for two hours before serving.

To serve, spread the lettuce on a large platter. Mound the chicken salad on top of the lettuce and surround with the pita triangles.

Serves 6.

Cheaters cooking tip: If you're really pressed for time or just feeling lazy, buy a plain rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Remove the skin and shred the meat. Nuke it in the microwave for a minute or two before you add the vinaigrette. Warm meat soaks up the flavors better.

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