When I saw this at my friend Lisa & Gus' wedding lunch, the odds were against me liking it. As I've noted before, I will not usually choose to mix fruit with savory foods. I don't like mayo. I'm always worried that chicken will be overcooked and dry. The reason I tried this salad was not even to be polite--but because I know Lisa is a rockstar in the kitchen. She doesn't make anything that isn't outstandingly tasty. And if this was a lunch she made for her own wedding, it had to be good.
Friends, "good" is the understatement of the century.
When I first tried this, I was struck by the tenderness of the cold chicken. The mayo taste is light and not all up in your face. Tart apples provide zing, dried cherries a little sweetness and tons of flavor. The celery adds a pleasant crunch. At the wedding, it was paired with sourdough from the incomparable Mirabelle's bakery in Urbana, IL. Swoon.
Something (god knows what, probably my tastebuds) got me thinking about this salad last week and I had to make it. Since I'm homebound for the time being, I decided that I would be as productive as possible and made some Oatmeal Bread to go with it. The bread recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, a majorly reliable carb resource. Hundreds of people talked about how wonderful this bread is--how it's great for sandwiches, wonderful for toast, how it's light, sweet, and converts non-bread-people to the dark side. I'm joining that conversation right now: This bread is worth making.
Nay, this is a sandwich worth making. You can thank me later.
The chicken salad is great on its own, or over a bed of greens.
Cherry-Chicken Salad (courtesy of The Magnificent Lisa)
-3 chicken breasts
-Enough milk to reach halfway up the sides of the chicken in a baking dish
-1/3 cup dried cherries
-1/3 cup toasted, chopped pecans
-1/3 cup celery, chopped
-1/3 cup tart apple, cubed
-1/3 cup mayo
-1 tablespoon milk or buttermilk
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350. Place chicken breasts in a 13x9" pan and pour milk into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the breasts. Cook for 20 minutes. Flip each breast over and cook another 20 minutes. Let cool completely and cube into the desired size of chunks.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Let chill at least 1-2 hours.
**Note: I made this with 4 chicken breasts, so I increased everything by approximately 1/3 of a 1/3-measuring cup. I think this is a pretty forgiving recipe, so you can be approximate and everything will still be delicious.
Let's move on to tasty, tasty bread.
Oatmeal Bread (from King Arthur Flour)-3 cups unbleached bread flour
-1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
-2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted and cooled a bit
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
-2 teaspoons instant yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
-1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing to form a shaggy dough. Knead dough by hand for about 10 minutes or by machine by about 5, or until it's smooth.
3. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and allow it to rest for 1 hour. It'll become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface and shape into a log. Place the log in a lightly greased 9x5" loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 1-1.5 hours, or until it's crested 1-2" over the rim of the pan.
5. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190-degrees. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes of baking.
-Makes 1 loaf.