Sunday, May 16, 2010

Springtime Lessons

Nothing against a big, hearty bolognese, but sometimes you want something a little lighter for dinner. And nothing against salads, but there are times when torn bits of lettuce just feel a tad boring.

Enter the delicious meal known as the "composed" salad. (It sounds much more elegant in French: salade composee--non?) Anyway, it's a collection of vegetables, starches, and proteins, all cooked in the simplest manner possible and then dressed in a vinaigrette. This version, from Martha Stewart's Cooking School and titled "Poached Chicken Breast and Spring Vegetable Salad," consisted of poached chicken, boiled baby new potatoes, steamed asparagus, and poached leeks--all dressed with either a lemon vinaigrette, or a buttermilk vinaigrette. Martha also likes marinated artichokes with this, and while I'm sure homemade ones are great, I went with jarred for convenience.

Making this "salad" was an education for me. The most important lesson I learned was how to poach chicken. Until now, I'd always just boiled it in water for 20 minutes. But now I know that adding a carrot, stalk of celery, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, a bay leaf, and some salt makes the chicken so much more flavorful (and leaves you with a delicious stock for future use). I found the recipe online here.

I also picked up some other tips:
  • cook baby new potatoes at a gentle simmer, not a fast boil

  • buttermilk makes a great dressing for chicken or vegetables when whisked with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs

  • poaching leeks brings out their sweetness; tossing a few thyme sprigs into the pot imparts a mild savoriness

There are millions of ways to vary this salad, and I'm thinking I'll explore some of them this summer.--S

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