Ottolenghi's Saffron Chicken Salad

Whenever I buy a new cookbook, I bookmark the recipes that tempt me. Do you do that too? Well, when I brought home Ottolenghi's new book Jerusalem last fall, this chicken salad was the first thing I needed to make. It took me a while to get to it, but here I am, and it was worth the wait. The chicken salad is infused with a not-too-sweet orange syrup - its flavor reminiscent of kumquats, which I love. All the herbs and crisp fennel makes the dish super refreshing. And the sliced chili gives the whole thing a nice kick. I can see making this salad for a lunch with friends - I think they would ooh and aah at the wonderful flavors. Ottolenghi mentions the option of substituting arugula for the fennel; being that I'm a huge fan of both fennel and arugula, I think I'll toss both veg into the salad bowl next time.

INGREDIENTS closely adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini

  • 1 orange
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • sea salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 fennel bulbs, sliced thin
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup torn basil leaves
  • 1 spicy chili - Ottolenghi calls for a red chili, I used a serrano
  • juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 400.

Slice the ends off one orange. Cut orange into 12 wedges. Place wedges (with peels on) in a small saucepan with honey, white wine vinegar, saffron, and just enough water to submerge the orange slices. Add more water as needed during cooking. Simmer for 1 hour. In a blender or food processor, puree cooked orange and its liquid - this syrup will be your sauce.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet (I use my beloved cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil to the hot pan. Sear both sides of the chicken breasts for a couple of minutes. Season generously with sea salt and ground black pepper. Transfer pan to the hot oven to finish cooking the chicken - about 15 minutes.

Place 1/2 of the orange puree in a large salad bowl. ( Save the other half of the puree for another salad dressing - or add a bit more to this salad if you so desire.) When chicken is cool enough to handle, tear it into large pieces. Toss the chicken with orange puree. Add to the bowl: 3 more tablespoons olive oil, thinly sliced fennel, cilantro leaves, torn basil leaves, and sliced chili. Toss everything with your hands. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, pepper and lemon juice as desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Serves 6