one man's ceiling
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
  tarragon times 2
it's no secret that among the herb family i'm fond of tarragon. i add it to veggie soups, it works with fish, and when i remember it's a good twist to mix with basil in a pesto. but best of all i like it with chicken. i find it delicate enough that it doesn't overpower but light enough to give food a certain snap of both flavor and aroma.

tonight my zuska was out having a little get-together with her law school buds and i was feeling that dinner needed to be a low-key affair. the girls are great about trying pretty much everything we put in front of them but they are kids and the simple things are sometimes the best.

j likes my chicken salad, e will take anything that's starch. i was thinking that with the recent near-spring-like weather (sunny but not quite warm) i'd try with a simple cold plate, a picnic type offering with the commonality of tarragon. tonight was

bi-coastal chicken salad & honey mustard potato salad

for the chicken salad:

for the potato salad:
the following recipe presumes a cold kitchen with nothing prepped in advance. in all it took about an hour from start to finish and could have been served immediately but i chilled everything for a few hours before serving.

place the potatoes whole in a pot of water and begin to boil them to the tender spot
meanwhile, place the chicken breasts in a pot of water and turn the heat up to a low boil to poach
note: this is as good a time as any to make a fresh chicken stock, and if that's the case add a quartered onion, broken celery stalks, and garlic cloves into the chicken water. the chicken will take on some of the flavor and you'll have a fresh stock for the potatoes and for future use
double note: you can roast the chicken in the oven drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper instead for about the same amount of time, 20 minutes or so
okay, back to the recipe in progress
in one larger bowl chop and add the celery and onions
in another large bowl add the grapes, apples and cashews
then take a good hunk of fresh tarragon leaves (no stems) and chop them up like mad until you have 6 tablespoons (3 for each bowl)
what about dried tarragon? never for these recipes, dried works best when it can cook
after about 20 minutes the chicken should be cooked, so take it out and let it rest until it cools a little
check the potatoes. tender but not mushy? perfect. drain the water out and cover the pot with a towel to keep them warm-ish.
let's make a vinaigrette in the meantime. in a small bowl whisk the mustard and vinegar, slowly adding the olive oil to mix
remove the skin from the chicken and the chicken from the bone; chop into good mouth-sized chunks
add the chicken to the grapes and apples, sprinkle the tarragon on top, and mix the ingredients
if the chicken is cool enough, add the mayo, otherwise hold off
take the potatoes and cut into bite-sized chunks; warm is okay here, in fact, warmer is better
add the potatoes to the onions and celery and sprinkle the rest of the tarragon on top
drizzle a cup of stock over the potatoes and then give them a toss to mix
now add the vinaigrette and toss again. this should smell good as the heat from the spuds releases the various aromas
back to the chicken; is it cool enough? add the mayo and mix, then drizzle in the honey and mix again
salt and pepper these two dishes to taste and you're good to go

this particular night i laid out a small bed of torn lettuce on half the plate and spooned out some chicken salad on top of it. on the other side i doled out the potato salad. very simple and very spring-y. as expected, j asked for seconds of chicken salad (it's her favorite -- she requested i make it for her birthday last year) and e took more potato salad but neither had any problems eating both.

a final note on the chicken salad's name
the recipe (which is mine) is a cross between a waldorf salad (no chicken, mayo, raisins, apples, walnuts) and what is sometimes called a sonoma salad (chicken, mayo, apples, grapes, pecans). the difference between the two is, obviously, the coast (sonoma, california has the grape vineyards and the poultry farms but the waldorf astoria during the depression had to settle for raisins and nuts) and the twist i add is the tarragon and substitute with cashews. if i'm making the more traditional sonoma version it would have poppy seeds instead but i hold pretty tight to the cashews because i hate walnuts: they tear up the roof of my mouth and generally taste too bitter to me. and i have to be in the right mood for pecans. cashews are kid friendly, add the crunch without taking away from the subtlety of the rest of the ingredients, and i just like them, okay?

not recommended: holding this chicken salad between your knees (see five easy pieces at wikipedia for the reference)
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