Salad is the ultimate mix-and-match, suit yourself type of meal. Choose the greens, veggies, protein, dressing and toppings that please you and your taste buds. Don’t worry about ‘will these things go together,’ the answer will almost always be ‘yes.’
For this particular salad we let inspiration strike at the Evanston Farmers Market, snagging a bag of just-picked field greens; yellow and red heirloom tomatoes; and small Yukon gold and red potatoes. The other ingredients I had on hand: chicken breasts; green beans; radishes; cucumber; and scallions.
This is maybe not a very adventurous salad -- no what-the-heck-is-that ingredients and a pretty traditional combination of items – but man oh man, it was delicious.
My secrets? High quality ingredients, of course. Brine the chicken. And use homemade vinaigrette.
I usually try to break down large projects into smaller tasks anyway, so do-ahead recipe steps over a couple days’ time are a bonus in my book. In the end – totally worth it. This simple dish was a perfectly delicious example of eating seasonally and (mostly) locally.
Click to enlarge photos and read the captions.
Check out these brining recipes/resources: here and here.
Homemade salad dressing is worlds apart from the store-bought stuff, I hope we can all agree on that. But most of the time I use store-bought. Why? It’s easier. It’s ready to go, just sitting there in the fridge door. Although making salad dressing is by no means hard or even time-consuming, it does require you to do something. Some days that’s just not gonna happen. But when I do put in the effort, the pay-off is huge. So delicious and you can make enough to last about a week.
My favorite recipe for dressing comes from Thomas Keller (yes, that Thomas Keller) and is – like the salad – as flexible as can be. Swap out vinegars, oils and flavorings as you wish, just keep the proportions more or less as written. Variations to suit your taste are fine – for example, I like to taste the vinegar in my dressing so usually diminish the oil portion by a couple tablespoons.
This recipe calls for the blender, which I like for its speed and ease but not for the clean-up. Thomas says to blend the mix for some of the time and hand-whisk for the rest, otherwise it may become too thick. I usually do the whole thing in the blender because simpler is better, plus I usually make just a half-batch and maybe that’s why the consistency is not an issue. (If it does get too thick to blend, add a couple drops of hot water and try again.)
Another (easier) technique is to put a small amount of ingredients in a jar with a tight screw-top lid and shake vigorously. The dressing won’t emulsify as it does in the blender, but it will be light, fresh and delicious.
Click the pictures below to enlarge and read the captions.
Farmers Market Salad with Grilled Chicken Breasts
Recipe by Ann Johnson
|Printable Recipe- Farmers Market Salad with Grilled Chicken Breasts|
|File Size:||683 kb|
Pick what you like at the market, emphasizing fresh, seasonal and local. What looks best today? For this salad I used:
- Field greens – 2-3 large handfuls, washed in cold water and dried in the salad spinner
- Romaine lettuce – 1 medium head, washed in cold water, torn into bite-sized pieces, and dried in the salad spinner
- Bell peppers, ½ each of 2 different colors, chopped into medium dice
- Radishes (2-3) sliced thinly
- Scallions (2) thinly sliced white and green parts
- Green beans, @ ½ pound, trimmed and snapped in half if large
- Small potatoes, any kind. I used Yukon gold and red potatoes.
- Tomatoes, 1 each red and yellow
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts (2)
- Brine ingredients (kosher salt, sugar, water). Standard brine ratio is 1 gallon of water, ½ cup kosher salt, ½ cup white or brown sugar. You can add peppercorns, citrus, onion, spices, etc.
- Vinaigrette - @ 1/3 cup. (I used the recipe linked above; ingredients are Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and canola oil.)
- DO AHEAD: Brine the chicken breasts at least 2 hours before grilling or overnight.
- Many brine recipes tell you to heat the water + salt + sugar + optional extras, then cool it completely before adding the poultry or meat. Instead, I like to use cool water and whisk vigorously to dissolve the salt and sugar. It takes some elbow grease but ultimately a much shorter time frame.
- Once the brine is ready (salt + sugar dissolved) add chicken parts (or other meat). Make sure that all meat is covered by water. Cover the pan or bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. When done brining, remove chicken, rinse and pat dry. Then store covered on a plate or in a gallon-bag(s) in the fridge until ready to grill. Discard brine, do not reuse.
- DO AHEAD: Cook the green beans in boiling lightly-salted water for approx. 4 minutes or to taste. Drain and rinse beans in cold water. Spread them out to dry on paper towels, then store covered in the fridge until ready to make the salad. This step may be done as much as one day ahead.
- DO AHEAD: Make the vinaigrette. Whichever recipe, whatever method you choose to use, you can do it ahead of time, even a few days. If using fresh herbs, same-day might be best but you can certainly make it several hours before serving.
- DO AHEAD: I recommend pre-cooking the potatoes before they go into a grill basket for the final crispy-roast. You can par-boil them, stopping a few minutes short of done. I like to nuke the potatoes in the microwave for 3-5 minutes (after pricking them all over with a fork). Gives them a head-start to achieve that delicate balance between creamy tater insides and golden-crisp edges. If you start with raw potatoes on the grill you’ll end with charred potatoes whose insides never did get all that soft. Ask me how I know.
When it’s Time to Eat:
- Prepare the grill to medium-high heat. Oil the grates. Try to designate one section of the grill as a low heat zone. A two-zone fire gives you some flexibility if food browns too quickly.
- Lightly brush a small amount of canola oil on the chicken parts. You can add ground pepper and other spices if desired but no salt due to the brine.
- Cook chicken about 3-4 minutes per side. Turn from time to time, and move pieces to the indirect heat zone as needed. Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 F.
- Let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then cut breasts into half-inch (or so) slices.
- Cut pre-cooked potatoes (see note above) into halves or quarters. Toss with olive oil, chopped herbs if desired (I like to use fresh rosemary), salt and pepper.
- Place potatoes into grill basket treated with cooking spray.
- Cook on grill, tossing occasionally, until potatoes are tender inside with golden, toasted outsides, anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on the potatoes’ degree of doneness and heat of the grill.
- Meanwhile mix the salad greens with 1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, toss well to coat. If it’s still very dry add another 1-2 teaspoons and toss again.
- Place the dressed greens on the serving platter. Add the other ingredients, arranging as you please.
- Drizzle additional vinaigrette on top of salad. Serve remaining dressing on the side.
- Add any final garnishes if desired (ex. crumbled or shredded cheese, toasted seeds, fresh chopped herbs, etc.)