Roasted Chicken Salad with Bourbon Soaked Raisins, Toasted Cashews and Parmesan Croutons Recipe
Last night was salad night. As you know by now, I am not a huge fan of the cooked green vegetable, so every so often I feel like I should supplement my diet with a dinner salad. I think, when making salad, it is important to consider the textures and flavors of the ingredients to make the salad interesting. You will want to have a serving of protein (meat, chicken or beans) and a good ratio of vegetables, fruit and nuts as well so that each mouthful is chock full of different textures and tastes. If it sounds like the components would compliment each other and taste good on a dinner plate, then they should work well in the salad. I chose to include some of the prominent flavors and ingredients associated with colder months including a roasted boneless skinless chicken breast, bourbon soaked raisin, homemade croutons, toasted cashews and maple Dijon vinaigrette, here's how I did it.
I simply seasoned a boneless skinless chicken breast with salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. You can certainly use a bone in piece of chicken or take the help from the grocery store and include their rotisserie chicken. While the chicken roasted, I had plenty of time to prepare and assemble the rest of the ingredients. I started by making the vinaigrette. Making vinaigrette at home is one of the best suggestions I can give you. It is so easy to do, it gives you control of the ingredients and it is so much more delicious than any salad dressing out of a bottle. Start by grating a small garlic clove into a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of Sherry vinegar (you can also use balsamic, red wine, champagne or whatever vinegar you like), 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup (not the maple flavored pancake type, but the real thing), pinch of salt and pepper and about 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk the ingredients together until they thicken or emulsify. Set aside to allow the flavors to develop.
The next step was to make the croutons. I had just purchased a loaf of crusty, dense, French bread which I sliced and cut into cubes. After I drizzled the bread cubes with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper and sprinkled over some finely grated parmesan cheese I placed them on a baking sheet. The croutons will be perfectly delicious after about 10-15 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Even if you purchase nuts which have already been toasted, nothing can improve the flavor and texture of a nut more than waking them up with some heat from the oven or a dry skillet. I already had the oven fired up, so I added about 1/4 cup of cashews to a sheet pan and heated them for about 5-10 minutes. Be careful, though, and do not let them burn. Remove from oven and allow them to cool.
Ok, the rest of the process simply involves washing and chopping. I prepared 1/4 of a head of red romaine lettuce by chopping, rinsing and running it through the salad spinner until very dry. Nothing will ruin a salad faster than wet lettuce which will make everything else soggy and limp. I placed the lettuce in a large mixing bowl and topped it with raisin I let soak in bourbon for 30 minutes to plump, sweet white onion, English cucumber and extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese. When the cashews and croutons had cooled, I added them to the bowl as well.
After the 40 minutes or so that the chicken spent roasting in the oven, I removed it and allowed it to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Once cooled, I added the chicken to the mixing bowl with the other salad bits and pieces. To dress, sparingly drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss thoroughly to coat. Add vinaigrette a little bit at a time and toss after each addition until it is properly dressed. Serve on chilled dinner plates. Delicious and nutritious!