All too often, chopped salads wind up tasting mediocre and doused in dressing. We were set on creating a simple version that was fresh and flavourful.
We settled on a mix of flavours and textures, selecting cucumber, fennel, apples and romaine. Red onion added a bit of sharpness, and a modest amount of crumbled goat cheese offered a creamy textural contrast. We lightly salted the cucumber to remove excess moisture, allowing it to drain in a colander.
Poaching the chicken in a steamer basket enabled us to use no extra fat. Once the chicken cooled, we cut the breasts into chunks and combined the pieces with the other salad ingredients.
We decided to whisk the goat cheese into the dressing in place of some of the oil, and also found that marinating the heartier ingredients in the dressing for just five minutes before adding the romaine infused every component with flavour while still keeping it fresh and light. Use any sweet apple here, such as Fuji, Jonagold, Pink Lady, Jonathan, Macoun, or Gala.
FENNEL, APPLE AND CHICKEN CHOPPED SALAD
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
Salt and pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all visible fat and pounded to 3/4 inch thickness
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 Fuji, Gala, or Golden Delicious apples, cored, quartered, and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 romaine lettuce heart (6 ounces), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Toss cucumber with 1/2 teaspoon salt in colander and let drain for 15 to 30 minutes.
Whisk 4 quarts water and 2 tablespoons salt in Dutch oven until salt is dissolved. Arrange breasts, skinned side up, in steamer basket, making sure not to overlap them. Submerge steamer basket in water.
Heat pot over medium heat, stirring liquid occasionally to even out hot spots, until water registers 175 F, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from burner, and let sit until meat registers 160 F, 17 to 22 minutes. Transfer chicken to paper towel-lined plate and refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes. (Chicken can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
Whisk goat cheese, vinegar, tarragon, and oil together in large bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Add chicken, cucumber, apples, fennel, and onion to dressing and gently toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature until flavours meld, about 5 minutes. Add lettuce and gently toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Serve.