Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Smoked Almonds

A few month’s ago I saw Adam (from the equipment corner) singing the praises of sous vide, the technique of vacuum-sealing food then submerging it in a water bath that’s been preset to the food’s ideal cooked temperature; e.g. 165-dergees for chicken breasts.  The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated tries to bring the technique to the masses, without the necessity of spending $500. Today’s results are good. The chicken was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. But because today’s technique did not vacuum-seal the chicken, some of the flavor was washed away by the poaching liquid. Surely that oversight is the main difference between new sous vide and old-fashioned poaching (here is a woman poaching in the early 1600’s).

Really more poached than sous vide.

This chicken salad is 4-stars, but owing to the well-balanced flavors of the grapes, almonds, and other ingredients. Without any browning, the chicken itself is only 3-star. Personally, I find better and more complex flavors brought about by the Maillard Reaction to be more important than perfect texture.

Comments:

  1. The “sous vide” instructions in this recipe are only an approximation. I followed the timing in the recipe exactly, but after 17 minutes when the chicken was supposed to be done, the poaching liquid had fallen to just 150-degrees. The chicken breast also had only reached an internal temperature of 150-degrees. I had to re-light the burner and heat for another 8 to 10 minutes to obtain the final internal temperature of 165-degrees.
  2. Without any browning, the salad had to rely on its other ingredients for flavor. If I make this recipe again, I will take the 150-degree chicken and brown in quickly in a very hot skillet.
  3. This method is certainly not as even as true sous vide, so be sure to flip the chicken occasionally while the burner is still turned on.
  4. Chris Kimball warns that you should not use breasts that weigh more than 8 ounces or are thicker than 1″. But even if your chicken falls within these parameters, you will still likely need to adjust the cooking time.
  5. Primarily the article was about sous vide, and offered a few recipes. In addition to the Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Smoked Almonds that I made, there was also Curried Chicken Salad with Cashews and Waldorf Chicken Salad.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $8
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (no more than 8 ounces each, and no more than 1″-thick).
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 celery ribs
1 shallot
6 ounces seedless red grapes
1/2 cup smoked almonds
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

  1. Fill a dutch oven with 6 cups of cold water and stir in 2 tablespoons table salt until dissolved. Trim away any excess fat, then add chicken to cold water. Turn on burner to medium and slowly heat until the water reaches 170-degrees. While the burner is on, flip chicken a few times to ensure even cooking. Turn off burner, cover the dutch oven and allow to stand for 17 minutes. Put chicken onto a paper-towel lined plate.
  2. If the internal temperature of the chicken is below 165-degrees, pre-heat a skillet with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until it begins to smoke. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and brown in very hot skillet until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.
  3. Refrigerate chicken for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper to a medium/large bowl. Mince celery, shallow, parsley and rosemary and add to bowl. Coarsely chop almonds and cut grapes into quarters, then add to bowl.
  5. When chicken is fully cooked, use paper towels to dry the chicken and cut into 1/2″ dice. Add to bowl and toss together all the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste.
  6. Serve as a sandwich or over leafy greens.
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10 Responses to Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Smoked Almonds

  1. Carl says:

    Sounds and looks good to me! I try to watch America’s Test Kitchen every Saturday afternoon and actually found your website a few months ago while searching for one of their recipes. Please continue to do what you do and I’ll be visiting often!

  2. Neil says:

    I’ve been waiting for your review of this recipe :) we tried it too and it took forever for the chicken to come to temp, and was still just an ok chicken salad. We much prefer the older recipe that oven roasts bone-in skin-on breasts.

  3. Anna says:

    Thanks for this review, I’ve wondered about the whole poaching/dilution thing. For me, roasting, and incorporating the congealed juices/broth that collects in the roasting pan into the chicken salad is the way to go. Still working on my technique, but I think that adding a bit of water to the roasting pan to dissolve the fond once the pan is cool seems to work well. The roast-y flavor really gives a flavor boost.

    I also like soaking skinless chicken breasts in seasoned buttermilk for 24 hours before roasting (rinse off the excess buttermilk, then roast). It keeps the meat really tender.and the seasonings really permeate the meat. (Learned the hard way that there IS such a thing as too much garlic, LOL! One clove is usually fine for such a long marinade.)

    • Hi Anna, I agree wholeheartedly that roasting is the way to go. Unforetunely, chicken salad doesn’t have much liquid to deglaze the pan, so maybe you have try reducing what you’ve deglazed on the stovetop until it is thick and syrupy. Just a thought.

      That’s funny about the garlic. Last night I used 8 cloves!

      • Anna says:

        Yeah, one time I used about six pulverized cloves, with a dash of hot sauce and a lot of black pepper. Let the chicken soak in the seasoned buttermilk for about a day, and wow, garlic. Vampire-proof for sure. But very tasty. I guess it’s proof that some cloves of garlic are a lot more pungent than others.

        Just a few tablespoons of water are plenty to dissolve the deglazed bits, and since the broth that makes congeals when cold, it’s not a problem for the salad. I tend to just stir the congealed broth into the mayo for the salad, to smooth things out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Made this last night. Followed the instructions, but after 17 minutes in the liquid the internal temp of the chicken was around 150. I thought the chicken was cooked well enough, so just proceeded. Left out the shallots, and maybe that makes a big a difference because I found the flavors delicate to the point of bland.

    • Hi, I think the shallot definitely adds something; you could substitute the white part of scallions or even a tablespoon of regular yellow onion; but not enough to dramatically change your overall impression. I found the salad portion of well balanced, but also found the chicken itself to be bland.

      Incidentally, the bothersome bacteria in chicken isn’t killed until 150-degrees. If you are sure that every part of the chicken’s white-meat reaches 150-degrees then you will probably be safe. But Chris Kimball recommends cooking white meat to 160-degrees, and the FDA recommends cooking until 170-degrees.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for the reply. I look forward to catching up on your old posts and reading new ones as you post them.

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