SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Pig in a poke: What one gets when ordering grits in Oregon or chicken salad in California … we just don’t know what’s coming out. Think the current farm bill in Congress.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CHICKEN SALAD
Hooray for April. It’s that fabulously gloriously gorgeous time of year in north central Mississippi and west Tennessee when the landscape is brilliant green, dusted with lavender, pink, misty white and yellow. It’s when the weather, the land, and the sky conspire to give us a reason to continue living here despite the harsh conditions of our climate (floods, tornadoes, occasional extreme cold and ever-present high humidity).
It’s also that time of year when good Southern cooks rely on versatile foods that assemble easily, store well in the fridge, and can be transported by cooler for a few hours without poisoning us. Such dishes include fried chicken, pimiento cheese, chicken salad, pasta salads with or without meats, fruit and veggie salsas, berry desserts. … THESE are the go-to dishes that enable us to survive the flurry of end-of-season ballgames, recitals, church picnics, family reunions, and exams.
This week The Old Bride will focus on three versions of chicken salad, which in my opinion, is the second most versatile go-to dish in the Southern picnic-potluck-tailgate repertoire (after pimiento cheese). Tastes great served hot or cold, stuffed into tomatoes and pastries, on crackers, on a bed of lettuce, or in those dainty little finger sandwiches (crust cut off) that thrill the heart of every Southern Belle.
Of course, if you really are way too busy to throw together your own chicken salad, Oxford has a raft of venues that will make it for you: James Food. Emileigh’s. Olivia’s. Three-Way Stop. Boure.
To start the three chicken salad recipes listed today, The Old Bride is working from a 48-oz package of frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts. However, in a pinch, one may use rotisserie chicken for the Tarragon or Curried Chicken Salad, or well-drained, canned chicken for the traditional chicken salad.
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 24 oz)
1 tsp ground thyme
4 to 6 cloves of peeled garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Place chicken breasts in stock pot and cover with water. Add garlic, salt, thyme and pepper, and bring to a rolling boil. Boil about 15 minutes, reduce heat to medium, and simmer about 1 hour. Cool the chicken in stock before removing the chicken. After cooling, refrigerate chicken about 1 hour. Freeze the stock in ice cube trays for future use.
6 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped fine
1/4 c celery, chopped fine
1/4 c sweet onion, chopped fine
1/2 to 1 c mayonnaise (low-fat version is acceptable)
1/4 c sweet pickle relish, including relish juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 hardboiled egg, chopped, OPTIONAL
Pinch of cayenne pepper, OPTIONAL
Mix celery and onion with the fine-chopped chicken. Add just enough mayo to bind the ingredients. Add pickle relish and mix well. If too dry, add more mayo, a teaspoon at a time, being careful not to make it soupy. Add seasonings and optional chopped egg to taste. Store in covered container in refrigerator.
SPICY CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD
1 c low-fat mayonnaise
1/3 c plain yogurt
3/4 tsp curry powder, or more to taste
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or less, to taste
Combine dressing ingredients in blender or in medium bowl with hand mixer until completely blended.
6 cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped
1/2 c sweet onion, diced fine
3 green onions, each cut in half and diced fine
1 c seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 c toasted and salted walnuts, pecans or sliced almonds
1/4 c chopped celery and leaves, OPTIONAL
Combine chicken with onions, grapes, nuts and celery. Fold dressing into chicken mixture and toss to mix. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving. VARIATIONS: Add 1 c cubed pineapple or segments from 3 Clementine oranges.
TARRAGON AND PINEAPPLE CHICKEN SALAD
Melt butter in double boiler over hot water. While beating with hand mixer, add mayo and lemon juice in that order, continuing to beat until completely blended. Add pepper. This usually is served hot with meats and eggs, but we are using it as a “lemon aioli” for our tarragon chicken salad. While still hot and blended, spoon mock hollandaise into a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
24 oz cooked chicken breasts, cubed (not shredded)
1/3 c chopped walnuts
1/2 to 2/3 c crème fraiche or sour cream
1/2 c cooled mock hollandaise
1 to 2 T chopped fresh tarragon
1 T chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c chopped red onion
1-1/2 tsp salt, to taste
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1-1/2 c chopped celery
1-1/2 c cubed fresh pineapple (or canned, drained well)
Combine all ingredients, adding pineapple last. Don’t worry if this is a very wet salad. Serve in a “pineapple boat” or on a large bib lettuce leaf. Refrigerate when not in use.