Spring

Crispy Chicken Salad With Spinach, Cauliflower & Pickle-Brine Dressing

May 13, 2020
Photo by Allison Buford
Author Notes

The hunger gap is farmer speak for the time in late spring when all of the winter storage crops are gone, but the bounty of summer production is not yet in full force. In short, it is when you go to a farmers market on a warm, sunny day hoping to get green beans and zucchini, only to find tender greens and radishes. This salad bridges the gap by combining golden, crispy chicken, evocative of summer picnics, with the vegetables that do best in May’s fickle weather.

It also utilizes two of our favorite kitchen hacks involving mayo—a faster way to bread anything for pan-frying and an unreasonably delicious dressing that comes together in a blink.

First, the breading. Traditionally, to bread a chicken breast (or eggplant rounds, fish fillets, or tofu slabs), you need three steps: flour, egg, and bread crumbs. With one hand, you’d dredge the ingredient in flour, then, with the other hand, you’d transfer it to the egg, and then over to the bread crumbs. But in this recipe, you’ll simply blot the chicken breasts dry, use a knife to schmear mayo on all sides, and then press in the bread crumbs When frying, the egg protein in the mayo bonds to the protein surface of the chicken, making a strong and stable crust.

Second, the pickle dressing. Classic vinaigrettes are three parts fat (such as olive oil) to one part acidity (like vinegar or lemon juice). This dressing is roughly 1 part mayo (the fat) to two parts acidity (leftover pickle liquid after the pickles are long gone). There is more acidity than fat because mayo is thicker than oil, and pickle liquid is less acidic than vinegar, and so the ratio skews toward the acidity. Two other nice things about this dressing: It uses up an ingredient that normally goes down the drain. And it’s a great way to get the last of the mayo—just pour the pickle liquid into an almost empty jar and shake. —abraberens

Test Kitchen Notes

Here's another great recipe from Abra: Buttermilk White Beans With Eggs & Greens. —The Editors

  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 8 minutes
  • Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken breasts or tenders
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided
  • 2 cups panko or dried bread crumbs
  • 1/4 head (about 4 ounces) cauliflower
  • 6 ounces spinach (or another tender green)
  • 6 tablespoons pickle liquid from any pickle except bread-and-butter (too sweet)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Place the chicken between two pieces of cling film or parchment and pound to an even thickness—ideally about ½ inch thick—with a mallet, rolling pin, or empty wine bottle. Schmear the pounded breasts with ¼ cup of mayo installment, then press the bread crumbs into all sides.
  2. In a large frying pan, heat a couple big glugs of neutral oil over medium heat. Pan fry the chicken breasts until cooked through and golden all over—about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate or rack to cool.
  3. With a sharp knife or mandolin, shave the cauliflower into wafer thin cross sections. Combine the spinach and cauliflower in a large bowl.
  4. In a separate container combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of mayo with the pickle liquid and shake to make an even dressing. Pour half the dressing over the spinach salad, adding a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper, then toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired and then transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.
  5. Cut the chicken breasts into ½-inch thick strips and sprinkle on top of the salad.

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