Monday, 26 September 2016

Eat the rainbow - our favourite family salad



Eat the rainbow they say. No, not the Skittles ad, apparently colours equal different nutrients. Lots of colour means lots of different nutrients. Nutrients are good. They may not be delicious (kale) but they are necessary. Salt, fat and sugar are delicious - so make some honeycomb ice cream for dessert. What we have here is a whole bunch of good with some delicious drizzled over it.

Etien discovered this. We've modified the dressing a little since but we wouldn't claim it to be our own. It's a wonderful, vivid salad packed with all kinds of texture, made slick and delicious with a citrus, ginger, peanut dressing. We also added some char grilled chicken. Oh, for some reason this summer, in our household, chicken has come to be pronounced not 'chicken', but more like 'shick-khaaaaan'. But you don't need to speak that way to make this salad. It's an option. It is getting embarrassing in Sainsbury's though.

The veggie bit is easy, mainly chopping and grating. I want to talk about the shick-khaaaaan though. Lots of people cook the bird really, really badly. You could staple a couple of fillets to your feet and do a five mile run and they'd probably survive. 'Mmmm, delicious' you say while spluttering sawdust and reaching for your wine. So often chicken breasts are over cooked to the point of desiccation. Even in the adverts; that turkey from Iceland: DRY. KFC: DRY. Sainsbury's Sunday roast: DRY. SeriousEats satirised it in a very funny article.

For some reason, alone amongst poultry, chicken has this deadly rep. I've seen quail and teal served near raw. Duck presented like chicken would be sent back by most. No one wants pink chicken but a bit of blush is fine. So long as the middle of the meat is 75°C it is safe. But the outside is much hotter so the trick is to allow the outside to cook the inside. That's what resting is all about. The insides will rise in temperature as the outside cools. 75°C is not that hot. Soup that is described as 'piping hot' is more like 90°C. There is a lot of unhelpful folklore and food fear around chicken; talk of clear juices and white flesh. It's all nonsense. For a good conversation starter try this link

This is how I cook moist chicken fillets.
Use thigh fillets not breasts. I know breasts look all homogeneous and lack that off putting vein and sinew which can be seen in a thigh, but all that burns off anyway. Thighs are juicier, richer in flavour and much more forgiving on a griddle. Thighs are much cheaper, normally around 60% the cost of breast.
Buy free range not battery. It is more expensive. There's a reason for that. Some of battery chicken is water. Yes, water is added in a process called tumbling. Battery birds have damn all flavour anyway and adding water dilutes it even more.
Seasoned here with salt, pepper and smoked paprika, hence the colour.
Flatten the meat between two sheets of baking paper. I use a rolling pin. Don't bash and mash the meat. We are not at home to Mr Splatter. Use controlled blows to even out the thickness. I usually season mine before doing this.
Use a griddle. A very hot griddle. I mean, heat it dry for ten minutes on your biggest burner. As when searing all meat, colour = flavour. We all love that delicious sticky, deep, dark crust. We know that's where the taste is. Oil your meat not the griddle and you'll get less smoke.
Leave it alone! Don't move the meat. If you do, the crust will tear like paper and stick to the griddle. Wait for the top of the fillet to look cooked then flip, an action you need only do once.
Cook until moist not dry. You know the texture of raw meat? Yes you do, give the base of your thumb a little squeeze - that's raw meat.  Chicken should be cooked until it's just firm. Open your hand fully and now squeeze the base of your thumbs again. Yeah, like that. Prod it with a tongs to find out. Firm flesh is cooked flesh; hard flesh is dry.
Rest the meat. Apart from mince, I can't think of a situation where this isn't true. Chicken should be rested. Cook until the fillets feel just firm then remove, cover with foil and leave to cook with residual heat. Don't cut immediately. Just like steak, a rested chicken fillet is juicier. 
This should be the end result. You want chicken now don't you?
So that's the technique sorted. For this salad, you'll need eight thigh fillets. Now for the recipe.

Etien's peanut butter family salad with char grilled shick-khaaaaan.
A very healthy serving of six.

First the dressing. You'll need this lot pictured below... and the lime that I forgot to include. Sorry. A fine grater is really useful too.


In a jar, mix three heaped tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter (no, smooth won't matter), one tablespoon of honey, one tablespoon of soy sauce, one tablespoon of grapeseed or rice bran oil, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and the juice and finely grated zest of one lime. While the grater is out, add a thumb size piece of fresh ginger (I don't bother even peeling it first - unless there are manky bits). Now add a splash of tabasco or hot sauce of your choice and two teaspoons of toasted sesame oil. This oil is critical to the flavour, adding a smokey, nutty element. You'll probably need a tablespoon or two of water to thin to a dressing. Mix thoroughly to emulsify. Taste. Maybe more ginger? Up to you. If you have chicken thighs resting, you might want to add the roasting juices too.


Not a Sunday supplement shot. This was our dinner one Tuesday evening.
To make the salad: chop into strips one yellow and one red pepper. Chop one romaine lettuce or use a couple of little gems. Finely slice half a red cabbage, one red onion and two spring onions. Coarsely grate three big carrots.

Now toast a good handful of cashew nuts in a dry pan until they start to colour, let's say 100g but more is fine. Add them when cool.


Shick-khaaaaan
You need 150g of edamame beans - which is what supermarkets are now calling soya beans, for some reason. You can buy these fresh and salted in tubs but they tend to be expensive. I prefer buying frozen and just blanching them before use. Blanching? Add the beans to boiling water and when the water starts to boil again, remove the beans. Chill in cold water, to prevent over cooking, then add to the salad.

Now slice up your eight rested chicken thighs and toss the whole lot in a big bowl. Add the dressing and finally some coarsely chopped coriander leaf

Fabian called this 'the nicest salad I've ever eaten'. It's very flavoursome, with great variety and bags of texture, bite and zing. This is properly interesting, and not said with a wince while extracting something awful from your molars. This keeps its structure well so is still good the next day in lunch boxes. And yes, your teenagers will want this for their lunch boxes.


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