Warm chicken salad

We went through a phase with warm salads. An entirely admirable one it was, too, and not to be dismissed now, even though it might be out of fashion.

Salads represent an apparently disparate group of ingredients drawn together by a sauce or a common flavour. They are the ultimate in freshness and honesty on the plate.

The best way to concoct tasty salad combinations is to look back at old sandwiches. It’s the same process: teaching your palate the flavours which work together. Everybody, whether the best or worst cook in the world, knows what he or she likes in a sandwich. Which bread? Which cheese? Which meat? Hot or cold? Mayonnaise or mustard? An egg? Peanut butter? Beetroot or onion? And lately, avocado or smoked salmon?

The list is endless, look at the same list when you are creating a salad.

Perfection does not have to mean complexity; nor should it be a given that because you like twenty ingredients, the twenty together will make an appropriate salad. More likely they will make a mess. There are few salads better than washed and dried salad greens, preferably with a bit of zip in them, like watercress, touched along with salt, black pepper and olive oil — and a little vinegar only. Use it only as a highlighter.

Start from there. Experiment with several different greens; try different oils, vinegars; try cheese, nut, vegetables, garlic, herbs, bacon. Think about textures and flavours working together. This is real palate training. And remember, there are no recipes for salads, just suggestions which may or may not suit your palate; or your pocket.

1 chicken breast, skin on, per person

¼ bunch of tarragon, leaves removed from stems (makes for ‘A cup leaves) — Half of this is for the marinade, half for the chicken.


1 cup virgin olive oil

1 hot chilli, chopped

a little brown sugar

30g raisins

juice of 2 lemons


vinegar, preferably balsamic

virgin olive oil


black pepper

½ clove garlic, chopped finely


3 waxy potatoes, steamed or boiled in their skins until tender — Allow to cool and cut into cubes.

3 rashers bacon, fat removed, cut into squares, and cooked until crisp

½ punnet of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

A cup pine nuts or cashews

½ bunch of chives, chopped

a mix of salad greens — Try to use some watercress, or mustard cress, as well as some gently flavoured greens.


black pepper


Slide half the tarragon between the skin and the flesh, and mix the marinade ingredients with the chicken breasts. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.


Make the dressing using one part of vinegar to 6 parts virgin olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper, and add the garlic.


Allow the chicken to drain, and cook the breasts in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. The chicken should give to the touch and be just cooked in the middle.


While the chicken is cooking, heat a little oil in the pan and add the potatoes slowly, giving each piece the space to brown and sizzle. The idea is not to cook them all the way through, just to give them a little crust, something like hash. Add the bacon to warm through, and towards the end, the cherry tomatoes and the pine nuts for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with chives.


Slice the chicken and toss through the greens with the dressing. Add the bacon and potatoes, mixing through gently. Season, serve a little, and replenish from the bowl.

WINE: Hunter Valley semillons are like the perfect marriage partner. When you first try them in their youth, you know there’s something there hut it’s a bit ungiving. Then slowly, but surely, they get better and become stoic and stable in old age. My favourites are from Tyrrell’s, Rothbury and Lindemans.