Every diet known to mankind, throughout the course of history, owes its success and demise to one food. It’s a well-known and relatively inexpensive source of protein and has more recipe searches on the internet because, well, after a few months of religiously eating this, people eventually want variety.
Chicken. It’s almost a dirty word these days. How poultry is raised and “processed” in our country is fodder for many controversial conversations. And yet, it feeds the masses whether you choose what’s on sale at your local supermarket, or spend the extra purchasing “humanely” raised organic chicken. It reminds me of that Portlandia episode where a couple about to dine in a restaurant go and visit the farm where their chicken was raised. That’s not too far from exaggeration. As every day consumer palates evolve, so does the quest for knowledge about where their food comes from and how it came to being. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What is a terrible thing, however, is how one approaches cooking said chicken. I recently had the experience of cooking A LOT of chicken, some designated as organic and some just plain old local poultry processing plant chicken. If you haven’t ever tried food comparison, I’d highly recommend it. I’d also venture to say, when people blame non-organic chicken to be the culprit of dry, tough, stringy meat, I’d question first their cooking technique. Due to food safety requirements set by the USDA, most people are overcooking chicken to temperatures well above 165° and blasting the poor bird with so much heat it may as well be paper. Marinades and brines help, but if you insist on cooking chicken to such a high temperature you may as well expect something that no longer resembles poultry.
Local, mass produced chicken has more of a gamey flavor and tends to seize up and cook faster even with the salt solutions added to increase “juicyness” and also add more weight to your package of meat. Organic stays tender and has a cleaner taste reminiscent of well, chicken. But don’t take my word for it. Give this Greek Chicken Salad a try. With a simple poaching technique you can do stovetop, white chicken breast meat remains moist and succulent resulting in a rich and creamy chicken salad perfect for upcoming summer picnics and pack-and-go lunches.
- For the poached chicken:
- 2# (3 large) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (organic if your budget allows)
- ½ yellow onion, quartered
- 2 large whole cloves of garlic
- 1 small carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- For the chicken salad:
- 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon grain mustard
- 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme
- 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup red onion, finely minced
- 2-6 ½ oz jars, (about 1 ½ cups), of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
- Place chicken breasts and all poaching ingredients in a medium stockpot with enough water to cover the chicken by about 1-2 inches. Place over medium heat until just gently simmering. Keep your poaching liquid between 160°-180° to ensure that the chicken doesn’t poach too quickly and overcook. Once the liquid reaches the proper temperature, poach chicken for about 15-20 minutes or until the thickest part of the chicken reaches at least 150° and it is no longer pink in the center. *Tip: You can use a small slotted spoon to skim any of the white foam off the top of the poaching liquid. This liquid can be strained and reserved to use later in soups or sauces.
- Remove chicken from poaching liquid and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Once cooled, shred chicken and place in a large mixing bowl.
- In small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, lemon, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Whisk to form a dressing. Add to the chicken.
- Chop artichokes and Kalamata olives and add these to the chicken.
- Mix all ingredients and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with crackers or as a sandwich. This salad is best served chilled for at least 1 hour to allow all the flavors to meld.
Depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts, poaching times may vary but a good rule of thumb is to also go by feel. As with steak, the firmness of the breast meat should feel like the soft pad of flesh on the palm of your hand just below your thumb. As the chicken rests it may rise a few degrees in temperature and also distribute the juices evenly back into the meat giving you tender and well cooked chicken. If you're short on time, you can do a simple poach of the chicken in plain water and adjust the final salad seasonings according to your tastes.