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JeanMarie Brownson: Classic chicken salads are perfect for any occasion this summer

JeanMarie Brownson, Tribune Content Agency on

A package of pulled rotisserie chicken from Costco inspires all manner of summer meals. Chief among them, cold classic chicken salads perfect for hot evenings or toting to work in an insulated bag.

While pre-cooked chicken is fine to use, homemade dressings elevate any and every salad. No kitchen skills required; just a measuring cup and spoons. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to mix. Most homemade dressings keep in the refrigerator for a week or more. Simply set the jar out a few minutes before using to take off some of the chill; then shake well.

The classic Cobb salad, created in the 1930s by the co-owner of The Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, typically features rows of diced ingredients including chicken, tomato, avocado, and blue cheese over romaine. Red wine vinaigrette gets added just before serving. In the recipe that follows, a chive and tarragon blue cheese dressing gives the classic an updated flavor.

Nearly any vegetable, raw, steamed or blanched can be added to your Cobb salad. Simply arrange them in separate piles over the lettuce. To keep this classic salad tasting up-to-date, switch up the lettuces — I like to mix tender, flavorful spring mix or baby spinach in with some crunchy baby romaine.

As for the second recipe? It is inspired by the ramen noodle salad made by a fellow guest for a recent 1980s retro party we attended. We were lapping it up! You might remember this popular buffet-party dish featuring cabbage, crunchy ramen noodles and sliced almonds. Back in the day, the salad was quite sweet with a sugary dressing and Mandarin orange slices.

This summer, my version embraces a savory dressing without added sugar, which readily welcomes shredded cooked chicken and hot sauce. For the vegetable base, I use the less bitter, more tender Savoy cabbage instead of ordinary green cabbage. If you’re short on time, swap in a packaged coleslaw blend.

The key to a great ramen salad is dividing the recipe into three parts: The homemade dressing, the crunch mix and the fresh ingredients. Keep everything separate until just before serving, then mix well and serve.

For the chicken for these salads, choose from packaged cooked chicken, deli-counter rotisserie chicken (without skin and bones) or grilled chicken breasts or thighs. Thinly slice the chicken when it’s cold or pull it into coarse shreds while it’s still warm.

Chicken Cobb Salad with Blue Cheese and Chive Dressing

Makes 4 servings

Note: Make the dressing, and prepare all the salad ingredients in advance and keep refrigerated. Arrange everything in the serving bowls shortly before serving.

For the dressing:

1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

1 or 2 tablespoons half-and-half or milk

1 to 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon or ¼ teaspoon dried

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon each: garlic powder, dried thyme, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne

For the salad:

2 cups each: chopped or torn baby romaine leaves, spring mix salad

2 to 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, 8 to 12 ounces

1 cup cherry tomato halves

4 or 5 small radishes, thinly sliced radishes or ½ cup sliced red bell pepper

2 slender celery ribs, diced

2 slender green onions, thinly sliced, including most of the green

1 small avocado, halved, pitted, thinly sliced

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, halved

2 or 3 strips cooked bacon (or prosciutto or serrano ham), thinly sliced

Fresh basil sprigs

1. For dressing, put all ingredients into a wide-mouth jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover tightly and shake well. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to several days.

2. For the salad, mix the lettuces in the bottom of a large serving bowl or four individual serving bowls. Arrange small piles of chicken, tomatoes, radishes, celery, onions and avocado over the lettuces. Arrange the eggs in the middle. Sprinkle everything with bacon. Garnish with basil.

3. To serve, dollop some of the dressing over the salad. Use tongs or salad spoons to mix the salad gently. Serve right away.

 

Chicken and Ramen Salad with Ginger Dressing

Makes 4 servings

Note: Use instant ramen noodles with chicken or vegetable seasoning packets here.

For the dressing:

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or unfiltered apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon refrigerated ginger puree or finely grated fresh ginger root or 1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons refrigerated lemongrass puree or ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 of the seasoning packet from the ramen noodles OR 1 teaspoon seasoned garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the crunch mix:

1 package (3.5 ounces) instant ramen noodles OR 2 cups chow mein noodles

1/2 of the seasoning packet from ramen noodles, optional

1/4 cup sliced almonds

3 or 4 tablespoons toasted salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds (or a combination white and black sesame seeds)

For the salad:

4 cups finely shredded cabbage, preferably Savoy, about 10 ounces

1 1/2 cups shredded carrots, about 4 ounces

1/2 of a large orange, red or yellow bell pepper, seeded, very thinly sliced

3 large green onions, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced, about 1/3 cup

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 cups thinly sliced cooked chicken, about 12 ounces

Sriracha hot sauce, for serving

1. For dressing, put all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Let stand at least 10 minutes. (Dressing can be refrigerated up to a week; shake well before using.)

2. For crunch mix, crumble uncooked ramen noodles into bite-sized pieces in a medium-sized bowl. Add the 1/2 seasoning packet, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Store at room temperature in a tightly covered container until serving time.

3. For salad, mix cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, onions and cilantro in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to mix. Refrigerate covered up to several hours.

4. Just before serving, drizzle dressing over chicken mixture and toss well to coat everything. Add the crunch mix and toss again. Serve drizzled with hot sauce.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)

©2024 JeanMarie Brownson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



 

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