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Live, Love, Eat!: Chinois Chicken Salad

This is the signature salad at Wolfgang Puck's Santa Monica restaurant Chinois. It's a very nice dish, and easy to assemble, although there are a few things that I'd do differently with the recipe.

One way that I can tell that Wolfgang Puck is used to cooking in a restaurant kitchen, not a home kitchen, is his instructions for the chicken in this recipe. He tells the cook to roast an entire chicken, with "finely diced" celery, onion, and carrot in the cavity. In other words, mirepoix. In a restaurant, the finely diced combination of celery, onion, and carrot known as mirepoix is always available -- there are prep cooks whose job it is to make the stuff every morning. But at home? Finely dicing the vegetables that are going into the cavity of a roasted chicken is overkill, and extra work for the cook. It's just as effective, and much less time-consuming, to roughly chop the veggies.

Puck instructs the cook to then shred the roasted breasts and thighs for the salad while reserving the rest of the meat and the carcass for chicken stock. In a restaurant, this is the cost-effective way to use chicken. But for the home cook, it's a bit of work that could be avoided by simply using chicken breasts to make the salad. If you're a highly organized cook who makes your own stock, then Puck's method will make sense for you. But if you're like me, and the impulse to make this salad strikes you one evening when you're hungry and don't want to do a lot of prep work, then do as I do and simply poach a couple of chicken breasts. No need to wait for an hour and a half while a whole chicken roasts in the oven.

The flavors are outstanding, with the Chinese mustard providing a bit of kick to the vinaigrette, and the sesame seeds adding a bit of crunch.

A note about the yield; Puck says the recipe serves 2 as a main course. I'd say those are very generous servings. I had enough salad to feed 4 people at lunchtime.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 15 minutes for the chicken
Yield: 2 BIG main course servings, or four regular person servings

Chinese Mustard Vinaigrette
2 tsp dry Chinese or English (Colman's) mustard
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp light sesame oil
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp peanut oil

Chicken Salad
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise
1 onion and 2 ribs celery, optional
2 small or 1 medium head napa cabbage
1 cup romaine lettuce, cut into 1/4-inch strips
10 snow peas, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds

For the vinaigrette: combine all ingredients, except peanut oil, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add peanut oil in a slow steady stream. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.

For the chicken: place chicken breasts strips in a large saucepan with water to cover by 2 inches. If desired, add a roughly chopped onion and a couple of ribs of roughly chopped celery. Bring the water to a gentle simmer. Do not boil. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces.

Select 4 to 8 nice-looking leaves from the napa cabbage and reserve them. Slice the remaining cabbage crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, romaine, snow peas, and chicken. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat well.

Arrange the reserved leaves around the edge of a large serving platter and mound the salad in the center. Alternatively, mound the salad atop the whole reserved leaves on individual serving plates. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.



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