Monday, July 1, 2013
Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemons and Basil
Summer is sizzling in Seattle and I couldn’t be happier! The warm mornings find me slipping out back with my iced coffee to enjoy the sounds of the day as it comes to life. The squeals of neighbor kids squirting water guns, baby chickadees chirping in our bird house, float planes flying overhead and sprinklers whooshing are comforting sounds to signal that summer is truly here.
With these hot days come balmy evenings and a desire for lighter dinners. A perfect time to start chopping up some of the sunny preserved lemons we are cooking with this month for Tasting Jerusalem! Preserved lemons can be found at gourmet shops and specialty kitchen stores, but with some time, they can easily be made at home.
Fresh lemons are slit open and stuffed with salt.
After sitting in a jar for a week, the lemons are covered with lemon juice and olive oil (and, if you prefer, a hot chile or fresh herb). They are then tucked away for a month to do their magic. The lemons transform into a salty, citrusy punch of flavor to which you will quickly become addicted. You will start adding them to salads and grains and stews and ... well, you get the picture. Usually only the skin is sliced or diced to eat, but I like to use the whole lemon. These yellow orbs keep for months, as long as they are covered with olive oil. The longer they sit, the better they become.
As I slipped a lemon out of the jar, I caught a whiff of basil. My basil plant has been going wild in the sunshine and if there is a scent that captures summer for me, it’s fresh basil. We’ve been eating lots of leafy salads and I wanted to make something a bit more substantial, yet with minimal cooking. Chicken salad!
Chicken salad is terrific to make ahead or in stages. I poached some chicken breasts on the stove top in the morning, before the heat of the day took over. Later, I shredded them and added homemade mayo, fresh lemon juice, basil and half a preserved lemon. The salad can be eaten right away or chilled for a few hours, making it ideal to stash in a cooler. The preserved lemon and chicken are beautiful together, with the lemon adding bright bursts of briny flavor to every bite. The basil rounds out the salad with its floral, anise-like taste. It made a simple, satisfying dinner for us, eaten to the sounds of a summer day settling into the evening.
Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemon and Basil
Serves 2-3 as a light supper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly 1 1/2 pounds)
1 fresh lemon, sliced in half to juice
2 tablespoons mayo (preferable homemade)
1/3 cup basil, roughly chopped
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and roughly chopped (for a less salty flavor, you can start with 1/4 preserved lemon)
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken breasts in a single layer in a sauce pan. Add enough water to almost cover and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Poach the chicken for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked and can be easily cut. Let cool in the broth. Shred the chicken and set aside or chill until ready to use.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the chicken with the mayo, basil, preserved lemon, pepper and the juice of the other half of the fresh lemon. Gently stir and taste for pepper. The preserved lemon will add plenty of salty flavor. Serve right away or chill for up to a few hours. You can serve on a bed of lettuce or make sandwiches.