Chicken salad

This salad needs to be prepared ahead of when you want to eat it, making it ideal for when you’ve got people to lunch. The recipe comes from Keep It Simple by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, published in 1993 (some oldies are the best).  They say this dish comes from Mantua in northern Italy; it reminds me of a Spanish escabeche and as such you need to pay attention to the quality and strength of the vinegar you use.  If you’ve got a particularly punchy or abrasive red wine vinegar in your store cupboard, you may want use a mix of red wine and vinegar to soften the acidity. Don’t be too wussy though – 50/50 is fine.

I used a free range 2.3 kg bird and, prepared this way, this was sufficient for 8-10 people.

To poach the chicken:

Use a saucepan which is large enough to hold the bird plus enough cold water to cover it by 2.5cms. Bring it slowly to the boil and skim the surface. Then add 2 bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary or thyme, a chopped carrot, halved onion and celery stick, a teaspoon of salt plus some peppercorns.

Poach the chicken (a gentle bubble not a rolling boil) allowing 15 minutes for every half kilo. The leg should pull away easily when it’s cooked. Take the pan off the heat and let chicken cool in its liquid. Remove the bird and keep the liquid – if you reduce it a little is becomes a decent stock for use in a soup or risotto.

Tear the meat off the carcass in thick chunks and place in a bowl.

The marinade:
200ml decent red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 X 3cm strips of lemon zest (no white pith)
2 X 3cm strips orange zest (no white pith)
1 heaped tablespoon castor sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
100g raisons

Put the marinade ingredients, except the raisons into a small pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for sweetness – if it’s too sharp, add a little bit more sugar. Then stir in the raisons.

Pour the marinade over the chicken and then cover before refrigerating overnight. Stir the chicken once or twice to make sure everything has a chance to bath in the vinegar. Remove the salad from the fridge at least an hour before serving and fish out the zests and bay leaves.

To serve
250ml best quality extra virgin olive oil
20 small plum tomatoes, sliced
a generous bunch of basil leaves, torn.
100g roughly crushed hazelnuts or whole pine nuts, toasted

To serve: stir through the oil, tomatoes and basil; arrange on a platter and scatter over the toasted nuts.