Accidental Smoked Chicken Salad
We've had a lovely April over here in London. After the months of endless windy rain, the buds on the trees are bursting and we've had long stretches of sunshine. To this end, I've been a little lazy in the kitchen (well, sort of) and have become one of those annoying people who keeps containers full of prepared quinoa and lentils in my fridge, ready to pull out at a moment's notice and create a quick meal. This is all in an effort to maintain some semblance of health at home so when we go out we can indulge (I'm not sure it's working). I've also found myself pickling and smoking and generally stocking my larder with all sorts of homemade goodies that are wonderful additions to almost any dish.This smoked chicken salad was a happy accident one lunchtime when we'd been out too late the night before (and had a little too much red wine) and weren't feeling inclined to go out in the rain. I had grabbed a smoked chicken breast at the John Lewis Food Hall when I was on one of my many missions for my clients, unsure of what it would end up doing with it, but infused with rosemary, juniper, and parsley, it sounded delicious. So that rare rainy afternoon, fridge full of healthy food - not a strip of bacon or even eggs in sight (oh, what I would have given for a homemade greasy breakfast sandwich), I reluctantly reached for the chicken breast. Some lettuce, cooked lentils, garlic breadcrumbs, and mustard-filled dressing later and I had an absolutely delicious salad.Since that afternoon, I've refined the salad a bit and tried smoking my own chicken breasts (without much luck yet, I'm afraid) and added some quick pickled red onions to it just for some extra oomph. Although my own smoking technique has yet to be perfected, and I've been making excuses to head to John Lewis on Oxford Street just so I can pick up more of these Rannoch Smokery Scottish breasts, I think a plain old roasted chicken breast would be delicious too...if not quite as special. This is just the kind of lunch my private clients would adore, healthy, flavorsome, while terribly elegant (where's the Princess when I need her?).Most of the time, for something this straightforward, I wouldn't bother you with a recipe, but this is a truly delicious combination. The breadcrumbs are warm and crunchy, the pickles sharp and sweet, the lentils earthy and hearty and the chicken tasty and moist. The perfect Spring lunch. I hope that with the various components that make up this salad, you'll perhaps find some happy accidents of your own, and make them staples in your fridge going forward for your own rainy day.
Smoked Chicken Saladserves 2
2 heads of Little Gem or other crunchy lettuce of your choice1/2 cup cooked Puy lentils1/4 cup garlic breadcrumbs2 smoked or roasted chicken breasts1/4 cup quick pickled red onions3 tablespoons mustard dressingsalt and pepper to tasteTear up your cleaned lettuce and place in a large bowl. Add the lentils and breadcrumbs and then top with the sliced chicken breast. Garnish the top with your pickled red onions, season with salt and pepper and drizzle the entire thing with the dressing.Garlic Breadcrumbsfor one cupWhite sandwich bread (I used leftover scraps from tea sandwiches I made, wizzed up in the food processor and froze to use as needed)2 cloves garlic, smashed3 tablespoons olive oilsalt and pepperHeat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add one cup of breadcrumbs. Once they start to turn golden add the garlic cloves and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Keep stirring the breadcrumbs so they don't burn until they're dark gold in color and crunchy. They will continue to crisp up after you take them off the heat. I keep mine in the freezer and take out just before I need them so they last a long time.Quick Pickled Red Onions1/2 cup cider vinegar1 tablespoon honey1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon yellow mustard seedspinch red pepper flakes1 bay leaf1 medium onion, sliced thinly on mandolineBring vinegar, honey, salt, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf to a boil in a small saucepan. Throw in the sliced onions and allow to boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before refrigerating.Garlic Mustard Dressing1 small garlic clove, finely chopped3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil1 tablespoon cider vinegar1 teaspoon Dijon mustardpinch of sugarCombine everything in a jar and give a good shake!