Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing
Several years ago I discovered two cookbooks that opened a new world of food and cooking, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. When first published, I resisted reading these cookbooks because of the hype surrounding them. It is my experience, hyped-up media often disappoints and does not live up to the claims. Later, when I got around to reading the books for myself, I realized how completely wrong I was. These cookbooks and all their other publications, are worthy of all the praise they receive. Jerusalem and Ottolenghi cookbooks changed the way I approach learning about new ingredients, cuisines, and cooking.
There are many recipes between these two books that I love, like Roast Chicken with Clementines and Arak, and Basmati Rice with Saffron Barberries Pistachios and Mixed Herbs, just to name a couple. However, I wanted to feature their recipe for Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad. I just learned this recipe and believe is perfect for this time of year. I renamed it, Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing. This recipe is fresh and vibrant and easily prepared. Perfect for the days when the warm sun is beckoning you outside.
For another salad idea try chicken salad with avocado dressing.
Grilled chicken salad with orange saffron dressing shows how well bitter and sweet flavors blend to form a perfect union. To start, a whole orange simmers for an hour with honey and saffron until soft and the liquid is reduced. The bitterness of the orange peel mellows when combined with grilled chicken salad, crisp fresh fennel, and handfuls of fresh herbs. This is a well composed salad and with each ingredient plays an important role. The grilled chicken provides the backbone and mellows the concentrated flavor of the orange dressing. A composed blend of fresh herbs brightens and lightens the salad with sweet aromas and a refreshing bite. The finishing touch that ties everything together, is a spark of heat from the fresh hot red pepper.
Additionally, this recipe taught me a new trick. The secret to making this dressing is to blitz the whole cooked orange in the food processor with the reduced syrup. Using the whole fruit developed intense orange flavor that reminded me of concentrated frozen orange juice. Also, the best orange popsicle you ever had on a hot summer day. It is amazing how bittersweet fruit flavor can cut the heat of summer in an instant like diving into a mountain pool.
Personally, I hate throwing away citrus rind and am always looking for ways to include the zest in my meals. Citrus zest makes everything taste better so I was more than happy to use the orange rind. There is also less food waste. This grilled chicken salad recipe will turn heads and enlighten taste buds because of a simple and brilliant idea. It is a healthy and refreshing salad with hardly any added fat to weigh the meal down.
The moment I read these two cookbooks, it was love at first sight. Savoring the bold flavors in each tested recipe, inspired me to be more daring in my cooking. I no longer shied away from unfamiliar spices like za’atar and sumac, but embraced them. For the past several years, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi hold an influential spot in my life like The Silver Palate and Marcella Hazan cookbooks did in the 1980’s. Not only are they inspirational, but educational about new ingredients, fresh insights, and different cultures. I am forever grateful.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing
- 1 orange
- 2 1/2 TB 50g honey
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads
- 1 TB white wine vinegar
- 1 1/4 300 ml cup water
- 2 1/4 lbs / 1 k skinless boneless chicken breasts
- 2 small fennel bulbs or 1 large bulb
- 1 cup / 15 g picked cilantro leaves
- 2/3 cup / 15 g picked basil leaves torn
- 15 picked mint leaves torn
- 2 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 red chili thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the Orange Saffron Syrup
Cut a thin slice off the top and bottom of the orange so it will stand flat on a cutting board. Cut the orange in half then cut each half into 6 wedges. Add the orange wedges into a medium sauce pan. Add the honey, saffron, vinegar, and water to the saucepan. If any of the orange wedges are exposed and not submerged under water, add more water so all oranges are covered. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oranges to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer the oranges for about 1 hour. By the end the wedges will be soft and there will be about 5 tablespoons of syrupy liquid.
Once reduced, add the oranges and syrup to a food processor and process until the orange syrup is smooth. If needed, add water to thin out the sauce and reach a runny and smooth dressing. Set aside.
While the oranges are simmering, preheat the oven to 400F /200C. Gently pound the chicken breast with a meat mallet or the heal of your hand to create an even thickness in each piece. Mix the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Sear the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side on a stovetop grill pan, or cook on a grill. Transfer to a sheet pan or baking pan and cook in the oven until done. (If you are using the grill there is no need to cook the chicken in your oven.) Pierce each breast with a fork, if the juices from the chicken are clear, not pink or cloudy, then the chicken is done. Internal
temperature of 165F - 170F (74C - 77C). Depending on the thickness of each piece of chicken, roasting time could last for 5 to 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven (or grill) and set aside to cool.
Putting it all together
Once the chicken is cooled, shred the chicken breasts into decent size pieces and place in a bowl. Mix 1/2 of the orange dressing with the shredded chicken. Cut the fennel bulb in half and slice as thin as possible, lengthwise. Trim off the core if desired. Add the fennel, fresh herbs, remaining olive oil, crushed garlic, and lemon juice to the chicken. Gently stir to combine. Add the sliced red chili. Taste and correct for seasoning with olive oil, lemon juice or Kosher salt if needed.
For an easy shortcut, substitute the grilled chicken with shredded rotisserie chicken, or any leftover chicken.
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