This is true. In my opinion, Nancy Silverton can do no wrong. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. But her new book Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cuisine which I received a review copy of, had unsettled me. Chi Spacca is Italian for “the butcher” and is the name of her very meat-heavy Los Angeles restaurant. And my kitchen is not very meat-heavy. Still, I wanted to read it because it’s by Nancy Silverton, and I jumped in with an open mind. Despite the name, the food isn’t entirely Italian, nor is it entirely meat-based. The salads and the vegetables are treated with the same care. From the start, from the very first recipe in the book, I was hooked. This recipe is for focaccia di recco, and Silverton explains in detail what it is and why she was interested in it. I’d heard of this thin, cheese-filled, crunchy kind of focaccia before, but was never inspired to make it until I read about it again here. The recipe is also very detailed, with specific recommendations for the type of pan to use, the type of cheese to buy, and how to stretch the dough as thin as needed. I threw myself straight into making it. Stretching the dough was very similar to making strudel, and it was as much fun as I expected. The result was delicious too. Of course I came across the crispbread recipe, but for meat lovers, there’s an in-depth guide to seasoning, grilling, and stovetop cooking with recipes for beef and veal, pork, lamb, duck, rabbit, and chicken. I am particularly interested in the recipe Pollo alla Diavola on Toast, in which a halved chicken is fried on thick slices of toast. There’s also a fish-only chapter, and it was delightful to see that salmon steaks were used instead of fillets. The chapters on contorni and salads caught my full attention, as did the chapter on dolci. One of the Silverton recipes that has been on my mind for years is the Butterscotch Budino. In this new book, it is recreated in a simpler, family-style form. Before I got to that, though, the Indian-spiced chicken salad with tossed lettuce, walnuts, and pickled lemon vinaigrette called me.
I had been craving Indian flavors and the thought of satisfying that craving in salad form sounded ideal. Each recipe in this book comes with meticulous step-by-step instructions for assembling and serving. In fact, in the top note of each recipe, you’ll even find suggestions as to what type or types of platter and/or bowl you’ll need to serve. I appreciate that kind of specificity, but take it or leave it. For this salad, chicken was roasted with garam masala, allowed to cool, and then shredded into long pieces. I love using preserved lemons and might have added a little more than needed to the shredded chicken and toasted walnuts. The mixed salads were supposed to have escarole, but I couldn’t find it that day. I used frisee and little gem lettuce along with coriander leaves. Following directions, the salad was layered with dressed lettuce, chicken and walnuts, chopped preserved lemon, and cilantro.
The large, layered salad was packed with flavor with the Indian spiced chicken and a few preserved lemons, and the crunchy walnuts were a nice addition. There are more salads for each season that I want to try, like the roasted beets with chicory, yogurt and lemon zest. And vegetable dishes like roasted cabbage with bagna cauda yoghurt and crunchy grains are also on my list. Yes, it’s a meat-focused book, but there’s a lot here for me too.
Indian spiced chicken salad with mixed lettuce, walnuts and pickled lemon vinaigrette
Whenever I’m in San Francisco, I always try to make time for a meal at Boulettes Larder, a unique grocery store/restaurant at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I have never eaten there and was not inspired. When I ordered their Indian Chicken Salad, I loved it so much that I basically tried to replicate it as closely as possible, right down to the mix of escarole and little gem lettuce that form the base of the salad. When shopping for escarole at farmers markets and grocery stores, look for “blanched escarole.” Blanched escarole is light green, almost white, in color and sweeter and crunchier than regular escarole. It is grown in the same way as white endive and white asparagus, protecting the young plants from direct sunlight so that they do not undergo photosynthesis, which gives all plants their green color. If you can’t find blanched escarole, purchase regular escarole and remove the dark, limp outer leaves as instructed in the recipe. You’ll need a large platter or large wide-mouth bowl to serve this salad.
For the chicken salad
1/4 cup shelled walnuts, halves or pieces
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 lb)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons garam masala
4 preserved lemon halves
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of refining quality extra virgin olive oil
For the vinaigrette
1/4 cup peeled and chopped shallots
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the green salad
1 head escarole (blanched escarole is best)
1 head of Little Gem lettuce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup micro cilantro (or finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves)
To prepare the chicken salad, place the oven rack on the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until toasted and fragrant. Shake the baking sheet and turn it front to back halfway through this time so the nuts brown evenly. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Finely chop walnuts.
Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.
While the nuts are toasting, for the vinaigrette, combine the shallots, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and some black pepper in a small bowl. Gradually add the extra virgin olive oil, stirring constantly.
Season chicken breasts with salt on both sides. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of garam masala onto the chicken breasts and rub to coat both sides evenly. Place the chicken on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes. Halfway through this time, turn the baking sheet front to back to help the chicken brown evenly, until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside to allow the chicken to cool to room temperature. Shred the chicken as long as possible and place in a medium bowl.
Rinse the preserved lemons to remove the sugar and salt and drain well. Use a paring knife to remove the flesh, pulp and seeds and discard, leaving only the light yellow skin. Finely chop the skin and add 1 tablespoon to the bowl with the chicken. Add half of the walnuts, the remaining 1 tablespoon of garam masala, and the red pepper flakes. Drizzle with finishing-grade olive oil and toss to distribute ingredients and brush with oil. Taste and add more salt if you like.
For the green salad, cut off the root end of the escarole and discard. Remove the dark green outer leaves until only the delicate, light yellow leaves remain. Tear the remaining leaves from the stalk and place in a large wide-mouth bowl. Remove and discard any unsightly outer leaves from the head of the little gem lettuce. Tear the remaining leaves from the stalk and drop the leaves into the bowl with the escarole, discarding the stalk. Squeeze the lemon half over the salad, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat the salad. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat, gently massaging the leaves with your hands to coat with the vinaigrette. Add the remaining chopped preserved lemon zest and half the cilantro, tossing gently to distribute.
To serve, layer the lettuce in three layers, choosing the largest leaves first, arrange a third of the leaves to cover the surface of a large platter or bowl. Sprinkle one-third of the chicken and walnut mixture over the salads, leaving the edges of the lettuce layer showing. Sprinkle 1/3 of the remaining chopped walnuts, 1/3 of the chopped preserved lemon, and 1/3 of the cilantro from the bowl the salad was tossed in over the salad. Continue building two more layers like the first, using the middle leaves for the second layer and the smallest leaves for the top layer, making each layer smaller than the previous one. Sprinkle the reserved cilantro over the salad without dressing.
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