Chicken salad has this summery stigma about it. It conjures images of picnic blankets and block parties. Big, communal bowls of it. Sitting between the watermelon and the coleslaw. Ready to stuff between two slices of crusty bread. Or atop a bed of greens. Or straight to mouth via mayo-laced fingers. It's a dish that has consistently been a thrifty way to re-appropriate meat; bulk it up with choice fixings and wrap it all in a creamy binder (especially useful in hiding dry, flavorless protein.)
Chicken breasts are notoriously boring, so I poached mine in white wine first to get them plump and inebriated with flavor. I lean toward a roughly shredded style of chicken salad -- as opposed to finely minced or perfectly diced -- and the drunken breasts practically shredded themselves as prodded them with two forks. For the fixings I channeled the Southwest with a loud cast of cilantro, lime and jalapeno. Yogurt spiked with Dijon, cumin and a dash of cayenne stood in for the traditional mayo, rendering the salad bright and tangy with a kiss of heat that beckons for summer.
CILANTRO-JALAPENO CHICKEN SALAD
3 large chicken breasts
white wine (or another poaching liquid)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin
dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1/4 cup radishes, finely diced (optional)
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in a medium pot. Cover by about an inch with white wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken sit in the wine for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove to a place and shred with a fork.
2. In a small bowl combine yogurt, Dijon, cumin, lime juice, a dash cayenne pepper, salt and freshly cracked black pepper. When chicken is cool, fold into yogurt mixture and add onion, jalapeno, fresh cilantro (and radishes, if using). Taste and adjust flavors and serve at room temperature or cold. (Best if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld).