Ask Peter: Chicken salad
I love chicken salad, but my standard is basically green salad with bits of chicken added and vinaigrette. Do you have any ideas on how I can liven this up with more interesting ingredients? Izzy
The easy answer to this of course would be to get you to head to your nearest bookshop and buy my latest cookbook Savour — Salads For All Seasons. In that there are three chicken recipes, then two for duck and guinea fowl that you could also use. But that would be blatant self-promotion and I wouldn’t do that. However there are hundreds of salads you could make using chicken and all you need do is plan which one would best suit the chicken you’ll be using.
Roast boneless chicken thighs will be rich, slightly chewy (in a good way), a little sticky if you roast them with their skin on (which I always do) and flavoursome. They have much more flavour than the breast meat. They can be roasted whole, then sliced (either taking the skin off or leaving it on) and laid on top of a salad such as steamed broccolini tossed with chopped pitted olives, halved cherry tomatoes, roast diced kumara (roast it with the chicken) and dressed with a tangy grain mustard vinaigrette.
Or marinate them first in a mixture of olive oil, smoked paprika and fennel seeds for a few hours before roasting and serving whole, and hot, on top of a salad of sliced baby potatoes mixed with blanched snow peas, crumbled feta, diced mango and lots of picked parsley. Drizzle the roasting juices on top and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over.
The breast meat can also be marinated and then either steamed, roasted, or hot-smoked. The breast meat is less fatty and if overcooked it becomes dry so make sure you cook until just done, then rest it for at least eight minutes to allow the juices to be absorbed back into the meat.
This applies even to chicken that you might be serving hot. Marinades that work well here include things like: Thai curry paste mixed into sesame oil to a thick paste; lots of fresh tarragon, thyme and cumin seeds pounded together and mixed with olive oil and a little manuka honey; 1 grated large tomato, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 2 cloves chopped garlic, the zest and juice of 1 lime (or ½ a lemon) and some fresh herbs all mixed with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add a little salt to these as well.
For this last one, marinate the chicken overnight and then bake the next day in an oven bag with the marinade — it’s like steam cooking. This will marinate four breasts and so long as they’re not overlapping in the bag, which will slow down the cooking, you can cook them at 170C fan forced for around 15 minutes for medium sized breasts. Leave to cool in the bag then use the tomato mixture as part of a dressing by whisking it with a little wasabi, horseradish or mustard to a paste, then adding lemon juice, then olive oil until it tastes delicious.
If you’ve roasted a chicken you’ll have both leg and breast meat to use up and what I tend to do is slice the leg meat quite thin or pull it apart like pulled pork. The breast meat I tend to slice a little thicker.
You can toss this in a large bowl with sour cream or creme fraiche, blanched peas and green beans (and yellow ones if available), large chunks of avocado, thinly sliced or grated carrots, sweet chilli sauce, and thinly sliced uncooked shiitake mushrooms. Toss it all together with salt and pepper and serve on cold rice or couscous and some green leaves such as watercress, rocket or shredded iceberg.
Chicken is as versatile as you’d like it to be and can take numerous flavours and textures. Find recipes in our chicken salad collection
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.