A little over a month ago, my mother and I had a mostly wonderful lunch at Marché Moderne at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. The French bread was crusty and warm, the butter was served at room temperature for optimal spreading power over said warm bread, our Alsatian Tarte Flambée was especially decadent and delicious, and the Macaron dessert with cassis berry sorbet knocked it (and our taste buds) out of the park.
The one weak link in the meal (aside from the amount of time it took to get a refill of water – yowza!) was the special salad of the day – a plum and arugula affair with pistachios, blue cheese and saffron vinaigrette. Both my mother and I loved the flavor profiles and the unexpected savory notes from the saffron and blue cheese, but the poor delicate leaves of arugula were rendered limp and lifeless by the excessive amount of dressing. What could have been another knock-out was sadly just mediocre because of a rookie mistake – the dreaded over-dress.
Even with the sad memory of all those soggy strands of arugula, the flavors of the salad noodled their way into the back of my mind, and I began plotting a reinterpretation of the dish.
I knew I wanted to use the plums, arugula, pistachios, and blue cheese, but I also wanted to make the salad a bit more substantial so I could eat it as a meal. As much as I like my green things, I need a little something extra to keep my stomach from staging a loud, guttural protest approximately 20 minutes after I’ve laid my fork to rest.
It does not take kindly to lettuce lunches.
Or mind-numbing hunger.
In order to maintain the delicacy of the salad while keeping my stomach silent and satisfied, I decided to poach my first ever chicken breast to shred into ladylike bites that would not weigh down the arugula. I also added some slivers of fennel for another flavor contrast. Finally, in lieu of the saffron vinaigrette, I charged ahead with a paprika dressing that I adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.
As can be expected, I used it sparingly.
I won’t, however, be using this recipe sparingly.
Plum, Fennel and Arugula Salad with Poached Chicken and Paprika Vinaigrette
Based on salad from Marché Moderne
2 poached chicken breasts, shredded (see below for poaching instructions)
2 small plums, sliced into paper-thin slices
½ large fennel bulb, sliced into paper-thin slices (approximately 2/3rds of a cup)
3 tablespoons roasted pistachio pieces
3 tablespoons blue cheese, crumbled
4 cups arugula
Combine arugula, chicken, plums, fennel in large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette to taste – do not attempt to drown the chicken and lettuce. (They are both already dead.) Serve immediately and top with pistachios and blue cheese.
Adapted from Epicurious recipe
1/4 cup Sherry Wine Vinegar
2 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced and roasted shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Bake minced shallots in oven-safe glass dish until soft (approximately 10-15 minutes).
Combine shallots, vinegar, paprika and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine, and then whisk in the olive oil.
Poached Chicken Breasts
2 chicken breasts (approximately 4-ounces each)
1 cup chicken broth
½ onion, sliced into large hunks
Handful of parsley – both stems and leaves
Set breasts of chicken in a deep pan with a lid. Cover with water and one cup of chicken broth (chicken should be fully immersed in water). Add onion, parsley (and/or celery, carrots if you have them), and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes. Turn heat off completely and let sit for another 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. Drain and set chicken aside. When cool, shred with a fork.