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A Double Play from The New York Times: Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes with Red Pepper Dressing and Best Chicken Salad

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         Ask me my favorite day of the week and I will say Wednesday. Saturday and Sunday have their charms.  But of weekdays, nothing compares to Wednesday and the arrival of “Food” from The New York Times.   Formerly called “Dining”, the section was renamed in 2014 “to reflect its increasingly broad focus on food and drink, restaurants and home cooking, gastronomic trends and innovation”.   The newspaper went on to say that the newspaper’s most famous food editor of all, Craig Claiborne had named his first report “Food” when he joined the paper in 1957.  Plus ça change… Every Wednesday, I eagerly await its contents, most particularly, its recipes.   What other newspaper has a “Recipe Lab” where recipes are pored over with a food historian’s eye?  Where else can you find a David Tanis, whose City Kitchen is a constant source of new ideas.  Or “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite” which is the province of one Melissa Clark, whose recipes have made it onto Chewing the Fat an astonishing total of 33 times.   But today, Melissa is absent as her two colleagues, David Tanis and Julia Moskin take center stage.

David Tanis
David Tanis’ salad had me at first glance at its incredibly colorful picture.  And talk about what to do with a surfeit of zucchini and summer squash!  It’s a colorful showstopper with roots in Turkey, according to Tanis.   The squash benefit from blanching in salted water but the real star here is the roasted red pepper dressing which packs a punch of flavor.  And it is very easy to make.  I used a mixture of yellow squash and zucchini which added another layer of color to the dish.  I used a Mandolin to slice the squash to the 1/8-inch thickness.  That made life much easier but if you have a steady hand with a knife, be my guest.  I also used jarred roasted red peppers, but if you must, you can roast your own simply by slicing it on four sides and discarding the seeds, core and stem.  Using a grill or grill pan, cook skin side down until the skin is blackened.   The highly photogenic salad was the perfect foil for the exceptionally almost all-white Chicken Salad that I would serve with it.  Because two weeks after Tanis’ recipe appeared, I was smitten with Julia Moskin’s “Best Chicken Salad”, which, like its name is the best Chicken Salad I can remember.
         It is a close cousin of one served at The Swan Coach House’s Restaurant in Atlanta. The Swan Coach House is part of the Atlanta Historical Society where my mother was a long-time volunteer.  Their chicken salad was served in lady-like timbales alongside a frozen fruit salad and cheese straws. Since my parents left Atlanta in 1981, that’s a fairly good indication of just how memorable a chicken salad can be.  Lo and behold, Ms. Moskin’s Chicken Salad does indeed owe a debt of gratitude to Swan Coach House. It also owes a debt to the doyenne of Southern Cooking, Nathalie Dupree whom I eagerly follow on Facebook. 
Nathalie Dupree
         Ms. Dupree, who among other things, presided over the Cooking School at Rich’s Department Store provided Ms. Moskin with a wealth of background including this gem: “ (Chicken Salad) was often the centerpiece of a special-occasion meal when Ms. Dupree was a little girl, she said, reserved for Sundays, socials and summer parties. “Summer was when the hens stopped laying and had to be killed off,” she said.”  Apparently there are variations of the dish ad infinitum.  Slivered Almonds, pineapple, mango chutney and my mother’s favorite, seedless grapes, have all been added to the basic recipe, which relies on perfectly cooked chicken and mayonnaise.  Countless recipes call for rotisserie chicken, which sounds like a wonderful shortcut until I read that roast chicken is too dry, too stringy and contains dark meat, which should immediately disqualify its use.  Only poached White Breast Meat will do.  For a chicken thigh lover like myself, I was pleased to read Ms. Moskin write: “What lifts chicken salad up is the pure, clean texture of breast meat – one of the very few really good uses for this almost entirely flavorless cut.”   


Julia Moskin

The chicken in Best Chicken Salad was a revelation in more ways than one.  Incredibly tender, juicy and just perfectly cooked, by itself it was the best white meat chicken I’d ever tasted.  This was due to the Ms. Moskin’s discovery of a Chinese method of poaching that is incredibly easy and would be beloved in the south since you actually turn the stove off once you put the chicken in to poach.  All you do is to add some peppercorns and scallions to a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven, cover them with water and bring it to a boil.  The bone-in skin on breasts for into the boiling hot water and the stove is turned off.  The breasts sit in the water for two hours.  If you are going to serve this for lunch, you might schedule your cooking for early morning because, in addition to the two hours, there’s also the edict that the chicken should rest in the refrigerator for four additional hours.  Believe me, every moment you spend on this dish will reward you with a simply flawless chicken salad. I upped the quantities as I was serving more than the 4 portions in the original.  Besides, who doesn’t love leftover Chicken Salad. Here are the recipes:


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