Hello, hello! I am sorry about my unscheduled absence last week – I was all ready to greet the new year with a new post, but sadly the lurgy got in the way and instead I greeted the new year with ibuprofen, my duvet, and many, many episodes of How I Met Your Mother. (Including the episode with this song in it – enough to cheer anyone up). But now I’m back on my feet, and to make up for it, I have this lovely winter salad post, and… later this week or early next, a *surprise*! I know, exciting, non?
So while I leave you in that orgy of suspense, let’s talk about… commuting.
I never, ever thought I would say this, but one of the things I really miss about my life back in the UK is my commute to and from work. It’s a strange thing to say, not least because one of the characteristics of being a Londoner, and one of the things which binds us together, is regular grumbles about the transport system. In truth, it’s a love-to-hate thing, because, let’s face it, the London transport system is really quite incredible – something I’ve come to realise all the more since moving away. This isn’t why I loved my commute, though – or not the only reason.
The reason I loved my commute is because it gave me at least 30 minutes a day of unadulterated, uninterrupted reading time. There is almost never phone signal on the tube in central London, and this gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. You can’t be anywhere else, or doing anything else, while you’re on the tube – you can’t receive calls from angry orchestra managers asking why a venue isn’t open for them to load in their instruments, or pleading emails from stage managers asking if you know anywhere in central London to park a truck full of instruments (true stories, both…). In the busiest, most stressful patches of my job, these short journeys provided me with a wonderful sense of peace. True, there are days when you don’t get a seat – for that matter, there are days when you have to wait for three trains to pass through before you can get on a train, and if your journey includes getting on at Oxford Circus (among other stations), there are days, more frequent than you might imagine, where you have to wait to even get into the station. But these are the exceptions.
People do all sorts of things on the tube – some listen to music, some do their make up, some sit quietly with their thoughts, some sit… less quietly with their thoughts. I read. Mostly, I would read my book – but once a week, I would read the treat that is Stylist magazine. Stylist is a free magazine which comes out once a week, and which is distributed, among other places, at stations in London. It’s something I looked forward to every week, and which brightened my commute. It is a wonderful mix of fashion, culture and events, aimed primarily at women – they have great columnists, they do interviews with inspiring, interesting women, and they tackle important issues facing women today. They also have a weekly food column, often featuring recipes from ‘celebrity’ chefs – many of these are cut out and stuck in my recipe scrapbook, some still waiting to be made, others which have already become firm favourites.
One of these is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy – I made this a few times before I left London, it is a wonderful recipe. It’s very simple, but so delicious – the chicken is crispy skinned and tender, with a wonderful dark, salty glaze from the soy. The plums are sweet and sour, and the whole thing is pepped up by the aromatics – garlic, ginger and chili. I have always been deeply suspicious of fruit in savoury dishes – pineapple on pizza is just wrong, as are raisins in curry – but I am willing to waive these suspicions for this dish, the plums really make it.
The first time I made this, I thought it’s something that might work well as a salad – particularly with the chicken served warm, with peppery leaves such as rocket (/arugula) and watercress. Nigel Slater has a wonderful recipe in The Kitchen Diaries for chicken salad with watercress, almonds and orange – beautiful hunks of warm chicken with juicy orange and crunchy almonds, which work so well against the peppery watercress – and I wondered if I could make something similar with this recipe. In this cold weather, I eat a lot of warming, hearty, stew-type meals, and sometimes I miss the freshness of a salad. This meal has that freshness from the leaves, but still has a comforting warmth – both literally, in the form of the chicken and plums, and figuratively, in the form of the aromatics.
When I went shopping to make this, I couldn’t find plums anywhere, so I settled for nectarines instead – it was ok, but nothing like as good as with plums, so the recipe below sticks with plums and I would urge you to use these, if you can. Nectarines have a slightly floral note which does not work as well with the flavours – though at a pinch, it is an option. I added some toasted chopped walnuts, for crunch, which did work really well, so they’re in the recipe!
Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy
Cook time – 1 hr
Prep time – 2omins
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1/2 tbsp sunflower (/other flavourless) oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 or 2 chilies (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2-3 inch piece ginger
- 4 plums, halved and stoned
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 75-100g salad leaves, such as rocket, watercress or baby spinach (or a mix)
- handful of walnut pieces
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Put the chicken thighs in a roasting tray – season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once or twice.
De-seed the chili(es) and slice into thin strips. Peel and slice two of the garlic cloves – reserve the third for the salad dressing. Peel the ginger – you can either grate it, or slice into match-stick pieces. Reserve around 1/2 tsp for the dressing. After 30 minutes, add the chili, garlic and ginger to the chicken in the pan, return to the oven, and roast for another 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the chicken from the oven, and add the halved plums to the tray. Try to arrange everything in one layer. Pour over 2 tbsp of the soy sauce (reserve the remainder for the dressing) – if the tray is dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Return the tray to the oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly. You may find you need to cook the plums a little longer than 10-15 minutes – if so, drain off most of the liquid from the tray to a bowl, and return the tray to the oven for 5-10 minutes.
While the chicken is cooling, prepare the salad. Put the walnut pieces in a dry saucepan over a medium heat, and toast for 2-3 minutes – watch them carefully to make sure they do not burn. Spoon off the fat from the juices from the pan – discard the fat. Crush the remaining garlic clove, and add to the juices with the chopped ginger. Add a small amount of sesame oil – it is very strongly flavoured, so add it a little at a time and taste as you go. Add the reserved soy sauce, again, tasting as you go, and top up with a little sunflower oil. Stir together to create a dressing.
Arrange the salad leaves in a bowl. Remove the chicken from the bone, and cut to bite-sized pieces. Arrange the chicken, walnuts and plums over the leaves, and top with the dressing. Serve with crusty bread.