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Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumber and Cilantro from Tyler Florence

We were having friends for lunch over the weekend and I wanted to make Chicken Salad.  For the recipe I took out three contenders. Patricia Well’s “The Paris Cookbook” (Harper Collins 2001) had one that would have put us right in the heart of St. Germain de Pres with a recipe from Le Bonaparte restaurant there.   Wolfgang Puck would have sent us to Santa Monica and the famous Chinois Chicken Salad but we’ve already visited there (See http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2011/07/encounter-with-wolfgang-puck-and-his.htmland though we loved the salad, Andrew wanted to try something new.  And once again, Tyler Florence and his “Tyler’s Ultimate”  (Clarkson Potter 2006) won out.  This is an Asian inspired recipe that hits all the Asian flavor parameters—spicy, salty, sour and sweet.   It looks lovely too and terribly healthy if you ignore  the fact that you basically fry the panko sesame seed crusted chicken, which I am perfectly capable of doing.  


         There’s not a lot of effort involved here. I’ve just discovered the Kendall brand individually wrapped boneless skinless chicken breasts at Costco and really cannot say enough good things about them.  They are frozen but when I buy fresh chicken at Costco, I inevitably take it home and immediately freeze it.  There are always more chicken breasts in the package that I can possibly use for two servings so all in all the individually frozen breasts make a lot of sense.  The dressing is really standard pantry stuff as long as you have a minor Asian influence there—soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and a knob of ginger is about as Asian as the dressing gets.  And then there are the sesame seeds sold for far too much money in the spice aisle here.   I am well aware that cilantro is a turn off to many people and I would guess you could skip it without incident.   But it does contribute a nice taste difference to what would be an ordinary spinach, cucumber and scallion salad.  The other great thing about this dish is that you can make it in advance and serve it at room temperature.  We served it at lunch but it would work nicely for a light dinner as well.  Here is the recipe:
Tyler Florence’s Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumbers and Cilantro  Serves 4. Takes 1 hour to make.
For the Vinaigrette:
¼ cup soy sauce
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
For the Salad:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 lb),
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup sesame seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
A couple good handfuls of stemmed spinach leaves (about 4 cups)
½ English cucumber cut into thin slices
Handful fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon sesame seeds toasted in a dry skillet over low heat, plus extra for garnish
Cracked black pepper
1. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, and sugar.
2. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Use a sharp knife to cut the breasts in half horizontally.  Put the breasts on a large plate and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Set the remaining vinaigrette aside and let the chicken marinate for 10 minutes.  
3. Combine the panko and sesame seeds in a shallow platter and season with lots of salt and pepper. Mix with your fingers so that the seasoning is incorporated and then taste it – the panko should be well seasoned. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned crumbs, patting gently so that the crumbs adhere, until well coated.
4. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Line a platter with paper towels and set that to the side of the stove. Add about 3  chicken pieces to the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy. Remove the chicken to the platter to drain. Do the same to cook the rest of the chicken.
5. Put the spinach in bowl with the cucumber, cilantro and scallions and a tablespoon of the toasted sesame seeds and give them a good toss. To serve, arrange a mound of greens on each of 4 plates.  Put a piece of chicken atop each salad, stack a few more greens on top, put a second piece of chicken atop those greens and then drizzle with vinaigrette.  Shower with the remaining toasted sesame seeds and cracked black pepper.  Serve.

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