Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day 2008

Madame has decided that winter is too long and that she is tired of winter vegetables and hearty dishes. So she muttered something about a sald with oranges and fresh flavors. That wasn't a lot to go on, but I can take a hint with the best of them! I was also thwarted because the gelato store - Paciugos on MacArthur/114 seems to have closed down. I had planned to have some nice gelato to finish our dinner - instead I went to marble slab and got some white chocolate/raspberry swirl with nuts and caramel. The main course had better be light.

As those who know me will testify, I will not generally order a salad but since it was V-Day and Madame had made a specific request, I thought I had better honor it. So some thinking, a trip to Tom Thumb, and an inspection of the wine stocks gave me the following idea:

A salad with chicken strips, avocado, orange, toasted almonds, baby spinach and tomato with an orange, lime dressing served with a bottle of Chassagne Montrachet. Usual goal was for it to be made in less than 45 minutes.

The key to this sald is for the various ingredients (except for the spinach leaves) to be the same general shape as each other, and to keep the size appropriate. The only ingredient whose shape I couldn't really control was the slivered almonds, so they defined the ingredient shape.

The list of ingredients is pretty formidable, bt if you want you can substitute a scant 1T of your favorite rub for the individual spices. It wants to flavor the meat, not pervade it.

1 cup almond slivers - toasted
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts pounded until they are about 1/4" (5mm) in thickness .
1/2t paprika
1/4t ground cardomom
1/4t ground ginger
1/4t ground cumin
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4t finely ground black pepper + extra to taste for seasoning the dressing
1/2t kosher salt + extra to taste for seasoning the dressing
2T vegetable oil
1/4 of a preserved lemon rinsed, skin only, cut in small dice (optional)
2 oranges
juice of 1 lime
1 avocado
1 medium tomato
2T Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt crystals and coarsely ground black pepper to taste and decoration.
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves (raw), trimmed of stalk ends and washed thoroughly

Put the almonds in a single layer in a non stick frying pan and heat over medium heat, tossing and stirring constantly until they are an even brown. They burn really easily, so watch them like a hawk. This is not the time to multitask! You could do this in the oven, but I did not want the oven on for just this task. Set the almonds aside to cool.

Make up the spice rub by combining the paprika, cardomom, ginger, cumin, pepper, salt, garlic powder in a small bowl.

Pound the chicken flat - easiest between 2 sheets of cling wrap. Use a smooth hammer (I use an empty wine bottle - after all we have plenty of those) - you are pounding it thin not breaking really tough fibers apart. Once the chicken is flat, sprinkle both sides with the spice rub and leave to rest for about 10 minutes.

Peel the oranges and extract the individual segments. Squeeze the juice from the remaining membrane into a small bowl, and add the lime juice. Cut each orange segment in half lengthways. Set aside

Halve the avocado, remove the peel and the pit, slice the halves lengthwise into thin strips. You should aim for about 12 strips per half. Set aside.

Core the tomato, halve longitudinally and slice each half lengthwise into thin strips. Don't worry much about the seeds etc. Some will naturally fall away, others will stay, it doesn't matter. Set aside.

Put 2T vegetable oil into a skillet (preferably not non stick), heat until the smoke point is reached and gently lay the pounded, spiced chicken breasts in the pan. Leave them (don't touch or move them) for 2 minutes over medium high heat. Turn the heat down if things look like they are going to burn. Turn the breasts over and do them for 2 more minutes - until they are cooked through. Remove from pan, turn heat off and add the preserved lemons to the pan (if using). Gather up the lemons and the fond and pour over the chicken - leave to cool.

Add the olive oil to the juices and mix lightly with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the spinach leaves in a mound in a serving bowl, add the almonds, oranges and tomatoes. Slice the now cooled chicken into thin strips a bit thicker than the almonds) and lay the strips like spokes on the spinach. Lay avocado slices the same way - between the chicken strips so the spinach is mostly covered. Mix the juices/OO one more time quickly with a fork, pour over the chicken/avocado salad mixture and simly let it drizzle through the spinach. Shave a few salt crystals and coarsly ground pepper over the dish and serve. I prperaed it up until the point at which I added the dressing and held it at room temp. for about 20 minutes since Madame was a bit late getting home. It held up fine. I added the dressing as she walked in, so that by the time we were ready to eat, the dressing had been in contact with the salad for about 10 minutes.

Serve with a nice, complex white wine - it needs a bit more richness/complexity than a Sancerre, the NZ Sauvignon Blancs are too grassy in general for this dish - and the citrusy notes interfere with the orange/lime clean flavors. That's why we used a white Burgundy (a Chassagne Montrachet, Premier Cru) for this. For once we didn't drink the whole bottle! Half of the bottle was enough given the complexity of the wine, the complexity of the dish and the wonderful flavor combinations.

There were left overs, so Madame took them to school next day. Apparently, it was almost as good on the second day as it had been the night before.

Don't forget that you have been handling raw chicken so please make sure you really carefully sanitize everything - yourself, the board, the hammer, any knives used for trimming, etc.

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