Most of the time when I’m cooking for just myself dinner will look like this:
There aren’t that many manners involved and I certainly don’t keep my elbows off the table. It’s usually eaten on the couch, while watching something inane.
But on this particular night, I wasn’t really on my own. I had a friend still hanging around, and I wanted to treat her with respect.
Some of you might already know about how I became friends with Soda Bread. I blurbled on about it a little while ago here.
Two days after I brought that practical loaf to life there was still a waifish amount left.
It wasn’t as fresh as it once was. It wasn’t as pretty. In fact, it was a little like me that night.
Something had to be done to it that restored it to its former glory. And then I remembered a magical chicken salad.
Judy Rodger’s chicken salad at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco is the stuff of legend. You have to wait 45 minutes after ordering it, because they’ll cook the chicken whole for you. If you’ve got a bottle of pink wine and a date to keep you entertained, that’s not a drama. The skin is crispy and the sweetness of the flesh flies directly in the face of any assertion that chicken is bereft of flavour. With it are juicy currants, pine nuts, bitter leaves- and hunks of toasted bread.
This is where my Soda Bread comes out to play. Her nutty overtones and gentle crumb would be the perfect understudy for this dish. The fact that she was slightly stale was even an asset. I could dress bits of her and make it something beautiful.
It’s a Cinderella story in a salad.
This is not Judy’s recipe. Her recipe is longer and much more detailed. This is just my bish bosh attempt to replicate it, with some scraps and what was muttering about in the bottom of my fridge. That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re cooking for yourself.
But if I do say so, what I ended up eating was pretty darn good.
Instead of brining the chicken for 24 hours I just let it have a little salt scrub spa session for an hour while I had a bath and folded washing.
I baked the chicken with some slivers of garlic and onion. When the skin was crispy and the flesh was cooked I took the chicken out to rest and tossed the chunks of bread and pinenuts with the olive oil and chicken juices and onion slivers to toast.
When I’m on my own I try to use as few pans as possible (the curse of nobody else around to help with the washing up). I found that I could easily make this all with one small frying pan and a chopping board.
I jumbled it all together with currants that had been soaked in red wine vinegar, a handful of mint, parsley and some shredded red cabbage for colour. I poured myself a glass of pink wine and sat down to a properly set table.
It was a date. But really, it was a date just with myself. (At this point I’d given up on thinking of Soda Bread as a friend. Beyond the fact that having bread for a friend is loony, the idea of having an old friend for dinner was a touch too Hannibal Lecter. And moreover- I don’t particularly like fava beans)
I drank my wine and I toasted the cook. What I sat down to was too large a portion for just one person- but I still I ate it all.
To not would just seem…. rude.
And really, that’s no way to treat a friend.
Semi Zuni Chicken Salad
Serves one very hungry person, or two.
One chicken maryland (breast and drumstick)
One tablespoon of currants
One tablespoon of pinenuts
One handful of mint leaves
One handful of flat leaf parsley
One handful of slivered red cabbage (or another type of leaf)
One cup of torn up hunks of stale soda bread (though foccacia or sourdough would also be fine)
Two tablespoons of red wine vinegar (Forum is my favourite)
Two tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Half a red onion
Two cloves of garlic, sliced
1 frypan that can go in the oven. 1 chopping board.
Here’s how we roll
1. An hour before you plan on cooking the chicken sprinkle salt all over it- this helps to brine it and make it jucier. Before you cook it dust any excess salt off with a paper towel.
2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. In a frypan that can also go in the oven, or a small ovenproof dish put the sliced onion, garlic and the chicken breast. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and put it in the oven for 20- 25 minutes.
3. Add the red wine vinegar to the currants and leave them to absorb.
4.. At 20 minutes check on the chicken. You want the skin to be brown and the juices from under the drumstick to run clean when you poke it with the tip of a knife. When you see that, put the chicken to the side to rest out of the oven.
5. Add the pine nuts and breadcrumbs to the pan with the onions, oil and the garlic. Toss them around and put them in the oven for 5-10 minutes to toast. Occasionally shake them around so the bread gets evenly toasted.
6. Arrange the chopped herbs, cabbage and currants on a plate.
7. Once the chicken has rested and the breadcrumbs are toasted slice the chicken into good sized hunks. Leave the drumstick whole. Add it to the herbs, cabbage and the currants. Use the oil and the chicken juices in the frypan as an improvised dressing.
8. Eat with a glass of pink wine. Tell the truth when your husband asks what you had for dinner. And then promise to make it for him one day.