Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken

My last CSA box contained, among other things, a 6+ pound head of green cabbage. It was an intimidating presence at first, but I've since found many a culinary destiny for that hearty head of cruciferous goodness. I'm soon to embark on my first attempt at making sauerkraut, but I tackled a few lighter recipes first, starting with this delicious chicken salad. As long as I like the ingredients, I can count on any America's Test Kitchen recipe to be delicious, and this certainly continued that pattern of excellence. The salad is in principle quite simple - a generous bed of fresh and crunchy vegetables and herbs topped with tender chicken and tossed with a light dressing. The success of this recipe is in great part because of the dressing, which really showcases the precise nature of America's Test Kitchen - just the right amount of a host of ingredients blended in salty, sweet, savory, spicy harmony. No one ingredient dominates the flavor of the dressing, but each brings just enough of itself to contrast and balance all the others.

My winter eating patterns are a study in opposites - I crave both hearty, heavy comfort foods like meatloaf and chili that fill me up and steel me against the cold and light and spicy meals like this one that transport to warm and sunny lands that knoq nothing of snow and subzero temperatures. When I initially saw this recipe,  it didn't feel quite hearty enough for a winter dinner, but it was more than enough to fill my belly and remained refreshing and satisfying even the next day.

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

1/2 small head napa or green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (about 1/2 pound)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 scallions, sliced thin on the bias (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peanuts

Chicken and Dressing
1 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated or minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon Asian chili-garlic sauce, or to taste

1. For the salad: Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. For the chicken and the dressing: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken breast in the skillet and cook until lightly browned on the first side, about 3 minutes.

3. Flip the chicken, add 1/3 cup water, and cover. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes longer.

4. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.

5. Discard any water left in the skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the shredded chicken and cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds.

6. Pour the chicken and dressing over the cabbage mixture, toss to combine, and serve.

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