If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen. And now I happily pass what I have learned along to you, gentle reader.
Done correctly, chicken salad – like tuna salad – makes a phenomenal sandwich filled with flavor and texture that will satisfy even the most jaded appetite. Done incorrectly, chicken salad can make you want to barf. That’s because chicken (and turkey, for that matter) tends to acquire a funky taste after it has been refrigerated and especially if it is reheated. The trick to overcoming this downside of poultry is two-fold: brine the meat first and then boil it in chicken stock.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, brined (see below)
4 cups chicken broth
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
2 tbsp white vinegar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp honey
Large pinch ground black pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup finely diced Granny Smith apples
¼ cup finely diced red onion
Brine the chicken
Bring 1 quart of water to the boil in a soup pot. Add 1 tbsp chicken bouillon paste (or 2 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes), followed by 1/8 cup kosher salt, 1/8 cup raw sugar, ¼ tsp whole peppercorns, 1 bay leaf and 1 tsp dried sage leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes before removing pot from stove and allowing brine to reach room temperature.
Immerse chicken breasts in the brine. Cover the pot and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Cook the chicken
Since boiling tends to extract flavor from the chicken, we will compensate by cooking it in chicken broth.
Remove the breasts from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Add chicken breasts to a saucepan filled with the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle.
Remove breasts from broth to a large platter. Cover and refrigerate until chicken is cool. DO NOT DISCARD BROTH! Strain it into several sealable plastic containers and then freeze it for use in future soup and gravy recipes.
Prepare the chicken salad
Using a sharp butcher knife, dice the chicken meat into pieces no larger than ½ inch and place into a large bowl. Add celery, apples and onion. Toss to mix thoroughly.
Using a whisk, blend together dressing ingredients and pour over the chicken mixture. Toss gently to incorporate chicken and dressing.
Serve on bread of your choice with red leaf lettuce and fresh, vine-ripened tomato.