A BURGER AND FRIES; corned beef on rye; chicken sandwich, hold the mayo; tuna salad with lettuce--tuna salad again? It must be Thursday! Vary the lunchtime routine with salads from around the world--the Orient, France and Italy--salads elegant enough to share with special company.
Most people think of cooked chicken as roasted, fried or broiled. The primary cooking technique used for chicken in these summer salads is poaching. Once poached, the chicken is then shredded, sliced or cubed. It may be tossed with dressing or have the dressing drizzled over it. Crunchy noodles and crisp vegetables such as bean sprouts, lettuce and jerusalem artichokes add character and extend the salads. In the vegetarian pasta primavera, fresh vegetables are lightly cooked, heartily dressed and tossed with creamy colored strands of pasta to showcase summer's produce.
In general, prepare dressing one to two days ahead. The day before serving, cook the chicken or the vegetables for the primavera, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Assemble salads shortly before serving--at room temperature or slightly chilled.
To poach chicken, bring chicken broth to a boil. The broth should cover one layer of boneless, skinned chicken breasts. Reduce heat to simmer and poach chicken 8 to 10 minutes, covered or uncovered. The bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan should not break the surface of the broth. Reduce heat if this occurs. To check doneness, press chicken with finger or the back of a spoon. It should spring back under gentle pressure. If chicken is rigid, it may be overdone. Let chicken cool before wrapping or handling. Freeze broth for future use.
Major ingredients in the Sichuan Chicken Salad are familiar--pasta, bean sprouts, chicken and peanuts. Still, the combination is unusual.
In the Chicken With Oyster Sauce, the oyster sauce and honey combination has a rich flavor accented with fresh ginger and five-spice powder (use the powder sparingly since the anise may be overpowering for some).
Contrary to speculation, the Sichuan Peppercorn Salad is not spicy. Served by itself, the salad has definite texture and temperature contrasts. The iceberg lettuce retains its crunch, even in combination with the warm chicken and sauce.
The Chicken and Jerusalem Artichokes with Cress Dressing is a more traditional luncheon salad. The French-influenced combination of watercress, parsley and chervil gives a fresh green color to the dressing. Jerusalem artichokes add sweetness.
Adapt the Pasta Primavera by using whatever fresh seasonal vegetables you have on hand. Green or yellow wax beans are ideal. Omit mushrooms if they are unsuitable.
If transporting these salads in the heat of the summer, keep them cool with frozen refrigerator packs to prevent spoilage. SHREDDED SICHUAN CHICKEN WITH NOODLES & TAHINI SAUCE (8 servings)
For the sauce: 6 tablespoons tahini paste 10 to 12 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 to 2 tablespoons chili oil 2 teaspoons sugar 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot bean paste 2 tablespoons sesame oil
For the salad: 10 ounces spaghetti (use 100% semolina pasta such as Primo brand) or 1 pound fresh pasta 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 tablespoon sesame oil 2 cups fresh bean sprouts 2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, poached and shredded finely 1/4 cup Spanish peanuts 3 scallions, finely minced In a small bowl, mix the tahini paste with 1 tablespoon soy sauce. (Before using tahini, a paste made from ground toasted sesame seeds, always stir the separated oil back into the paste.) Continue adding soy sauce a tablespoon at a time until 10 tablespoons have been used. Add the vinegar, chili oil, sugar, ginger, garlic, bean paste and sesame oil, stirring well after each addition. A word of warning: Chili oil has had chilies soaked in it and is extremely hot. Use with caution. Hot bean paste is mild in comparison with chili paste. Both are packaged in similar containers, so do not confuse the two. To store either, remove from original can and refrigerate up to 8 months.
Set the sauce aside overnight to mellow. Taste and adjust seasonings. The finished sauce should be of pouring consistency.
Fill a large pot with water, salt heavily, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta--break the strands in half first, to facilitate serving--and cook 8 to 10 minutes until al dente (for the dried). Cook fresh pasta until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, and rinse with cold water. Drain again. Put peanut oil in the bottom of a large bowl. Add pasta and sesame oil. Toss gently until coated to prevent sticking. This may be done the morning of the party. Assemble just before serving.
To assemble, toss pasta with bean sprouts. Place on a medium-sized platter. Place shredded chicken over pasta in an oval shape. Drizzle sauce over chicken and pasta. Sprinkle scallions over top, and peanuts over this. Retain the skins on the spanish peanuts for color contrast on top of the salad. Serve at room temperature. Extra sauce will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks. CHICKEN WITH OYSTER SAUCE & CRISPY NOODLES (8 servings)
8 chicken breast halves, skinned, boned, fat trimmed
4 to 6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 ounces bean thread noodles
3 cups peanut oil For the sauce:
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced For the garnish:
4 to 6 scallions, white and green part, julienned
2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds
Bring chicken broth to a boil and add half the chicken. The broth should just cover the chicken. Reduce heat to simmer and poach breasts for 8 to 10 minutes until just firm. Do not let broth boil or chicken will toughen. Remove chicken, drain and cool. Repeat with remaining chicken. Reserve broth for future use. Slice chicken across the breast 1/8 inch thin. Cover and refrigerate.
Break or cut bean thread noodles into 2-inch lengths. Heat peanut oil to 350 degrees in a wok. To test heat, drop a piece of noodle into the oil. To test heat, drop a piece of noodle into the oil. The noodle should sizzle and expand immediately to a fine crispy strand. Repeat with small bunches of noodles. Drain on paper towels. Cool. The noodles may be made a week ahead and stored in a tightly covered container. To use, re-crisp noodles if necessary for 5 minutes in a 250-degree oven.
Mix oyster sauce, honey, five-spice powder and ginger. Let stand, covered, at room temperature for several hours.
Bring chicken to room temperature before serving. Line a platter with the bean thread noodles. Drizzle chicken with oyster sauce. Sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds. SICHUAN PEPPERCORN CHICKEN (8 servings)
1 scallion, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 quarter-size slices fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups chicken broth
6 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned, fat removed
1 tablespoon corn syrup (light or dark)
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 slices ginger, minced
3 scallions, minced
1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 small head iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
1 small bunch watercress (optional)
Place the scallion, ginger slices and chicken broth in a shallow saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the chicken breasts in 1 layer, reduce heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the chicken is just firm. Do not let broth boil or breasts will toughen. Remove chicken from broth and cool. Reserve broth for another use. Shred chicken coarsely by hand into 1 1/2-by- 1/4-by- 1/4-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
To prepare the sichuan peppercorns and develop their distinct flavor, heat them in a heavy dry frying pan for 5 minutes until the color darkens; be careful not to burn them. Cool and crush finely with a rolling pin, or place in a coffee mill and grind.
In a small bowl combine the corn syrup, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and garlic. (To store hoisin sauce, remove from the original can, cover tightly and refrigerate up to one year.) In a small saucepan, mix the ginger, scallions, sichuan peppercorns, peanut oil and red pepper flakes. Boil for 1 minute. Add the hot mixture to the ginger-scallion mixture and stir. Immediately pour over the chicken and toss to coat lightly. Add the lettuce to the chicken and toss. Serve immediately. Garnish with watercress. Hot steamed rice may be served with this.
To prepare ahead, toss the sauce with the chicken and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature, heat for 10 minutes tightly covered in a 250-degree oven, then toss with lettuce. Serve. CHICKEN AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES WITH CRESS DRESSING (8 servings) 4 to 6 cups chicken broth 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts 4 2-inch jerusalem artichokes, peeled (substitute sliced water chestnuts) 1 head red leaf lettuce, cleaned Tomato rose (optional garnish)
For the dressing: 1 bunch watercress 2 scallions 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley 1 cup mayonnaise 1 tablespoon chives 1 1/2 teaspoons chervil 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Bring chicken broth to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Remove fat from chicken breasts and add half the chicken to the pan. The broth should just cover the chicken. Reduce heat to simmer and poach chicken 8 to 10 minutes until firm. Remove with a slotted spoon and poach remaining chicken. Cool and cut into half-inch cubes. Slice jerusalem artichokes into 1/8-inch slices.
Wash, clean and shake dry watercress and scallions. Discard stems of the watercress. Place the leaves on a cotton dish towel and wring out excess moisture. Mince watercress and scallions. Stir them into the mayonnaise along with parsley, chives, chervil and dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper and add lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add dressing to chicken 1/2 cup at a time. Toss gently to just coat chicken. Refrigerate any leftover dressing tightly covered. This will keep for 1 week.
This salad is best served slightly chilled. At serving time, tear lettuce leaves into very large pieces. Place lettuce on a serving platter and mound chicken in the center. Garnish with a tomato rose. PASTA PRIMAVERA (10 to 12 luncheon servings)
Substitute whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand. Spaghetti or fettucine may be substituted for the spaghettini. 1 head broccoli, cleaned and cut into small flowerets 2 small zucchini, cut lengthwise into 4, crosswise into 1/2-inch chunks 2 small yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 4, crosswise into 1/2-inch chunks 1 1/2 tablespoons oregano 3/4 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) peas 1 tablespoon thyme 4 cups tomatoes, seeded, not peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks 1 tablespoon chopped garlic 2 teaspoons chopped basil 2 cups mushrooms, quartered 2 tablespoons butter 2 to 4 tablespoons seeded, minced jalapenos 2 cups basil vinaigrette (recipe follows) 3/4 to 1 pound spaghettini (100% semolina) cooked, cooled and tossed with 2 to 3 tablespoons basil vinaigrette dressing 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts 6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley Crusty Italian bread 1/2 to 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Steam broccoli for 3 minutes. Run under cold water gently. Drain and dry. Steam zucchini for 2 minutes. Cool in ice water, drain and dry. Repeat for yellow squash. Toss green and yellow squash together with oregano. Set aside.
Steam fresh peas for 1 minute, cool, drain and dry. Toss with thyme. (Do not cook frozen peas, simply toss with thyme.) Set aside. Toss tomatoes with garlic and basil and set aside. Saute' mushrooms in butter lightly and drain. Set aside. Mix jalapenos with basil vinaigrette. All the above steps may be done the morning of a party.
Three hours before serving, separately toss vegetables with a bit of dressing to just coat and marinate slightly. At serving time, toss pasta with more dressing to coat. Add a bit more dressing to vegetables to coat, but not drown. Gently toss pasta, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, broccoli and pine nuts. Arrange on a platter, leaving a space in the center. Toss tomatoes with 4 tablespoons parsley. Place tomatoes in middle of platter. Surround tomatoes with mushrooms. Sprinkle tomatoes with rest of parsley.
Serve primavera at room temperature accompanied by crusty Italian bread. Pass parmesan cheese separately. BASIL VINAIGRETTE (Makes 4 cups) 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled 2 tablespoons salt 4 1/2 tablespoons dried basil 1 tablespoon sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered mustard 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 3/4 cup red wine vinegar 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons corn oil 1 1/3 cups olive oil
Mince the garlic, salt, basil, sugar, mustard and pepper in a food processor, turning machine on and off until evenly minced. With the machine running add the lemon juice and red wine vinegar. With the machine running, very slowly add the oils. This will produce a semi-emulsified dressing--not a mayonnaise. Store in a cool, dark place or refrigerate. This dressing is very strong; the pasta and vegetables help dilute it. To use as a regular salad dressing, reduce salt, and basil, if desired.