Pollo Capriccioso…a gorgeous chicken salad, and a mayonnaise tutorial

I’ve been cooking with a ridiculous amount of vegetables lately. And, obviously that is a good thing. I guess I’m just impressed that I seem to be spacing my cheddar fries a little better these days. Here is an example. This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Pollo Capriccioso in the English Homes and Gardens, June 2010 issue. I had to have my iPad and Smart Chef app at my side to convert all the pesky metric measurements. It has celery, carrots, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, lemons, garlic, jalapenos, and more.

The fun, or nutty, part of this salad (depending on how you look at these things) is that you make your own mayonnaise to go on it. I’ll admit I wasn’t up for this task, initially (see Post Script). I whipped. I blended. I screwed it up. It tasted fine, but it separated and was wholly un-photogenic. Then I cheated. I had three baskets of laundry to contend with after dinner. I hope you are not too offended at my lack of ambition.

I headed to the fridge to cheat, er…improvise a solution for us. Their dressing appeared to merely be a mayonnaise with extra lemon and a little Dijon mustard. Bingo. It was the perfect accompaniment to the lemon infused chicken. It is a wonderful little salad.

I will list both methods in case you are feeling ambitious. This will make 2 giant salads or about 4 normal people salads…I like giant salads, myself. I would also recommend you take the time to procure good chicken for this salad. I went to Kuby’s (my local butcher shop and grocery to which I am devoted) and treated myself to some of their natural poultry, and as always, I was glad that I had.

Salad Materials:
4 chicken breasts (2 whole chicken breasts)
Salt and Pepper
1 large container of spring greens or other good lettuce greens
Flat leaf parsley (a little handful), optional
2 to 3 carrot sticks, julienned
2 to 3 celery stalks, julienned
¼ cup pine nuts (I didn’t toast them, but you can…in a low-ish oven for 2 to 3 minutes)

Marinade for chicken:
½ cup virgin olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, trimmed and seeded, and chopped or sliced

Mayonnaise (for the cheaters like me):
1 cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise (pleeeeease do not use Miracle Whip for this one)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)

Mayonnaise (for the adventurers):
2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup sunflower oil (I used olive oil)
Juice of ½ of a lemon
salt and pepper

Mix the marinade ingredients and put them in a resealable plastic bag with the chicken. Here you need to decide if you will grill your chicken whole and slice it afterward, or do as I did and slice it before marinating it and grilling it in strips in a grill pan. I did not want to deal with the grill today. I also think the marinade penetrated the chicken more thoroughly this way and I ended up with very peppery and lemony little chicken bites which I found very appealing. But, you decide. Grill or pan grill your chicken until just cooked and remove it to a plate and tent with foil. This will allow the chicken to rest and to remain moist as it cools. When cooled either shred it or slice it. Season it with salt and pepper.

Julienne the vegetables. I love the appearance of nice long julienne strips, but if you like your guests you will make them shorter (picture trying to fit them in your mouth sideways).

If you are going to make your own mayonnaise: Use a food processor or a blender. If you have the wrists of a 14 year old tennis prodigy, use a whisk. I dare you. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and mustard to the food processor, and process until thickened (at least two whole minutes). Then, drop by drop (and I literally mean drop by drop), add a little oil while you continue to beat the yolks. As the yolks begin to thicken further, increase the drops to a trickle of oil until you have incorporated all of the oil (don’t even start the trickle routine until you have incorporated at least ½ cup of the oil by the “drop by drop” method. Season with salt and pepper as needed. I did this initially with my immersion blender and it just didn’t work well. I did it with my food processor and it worked great but I did it SLOWLY!!!

If you want the easier route, combine the Hellman’s and the other ingredients, stir well and presto…dressing.

Now, in a small bowl, combine the carrots and celery with about 1/3 of the mayonnaise. Stir to coat well.

Assemble the salad as follows: (divide evenly between the plates)
scatter the parsley
sprinkle the pine nuts

Serve the extra dressing in a small bowl to be passed around.

Post Scripts:

A word on pine nuts: Pine nuts tick me off. They cost a bloody fortune around here. The little jar in the spice aisle can be over ten dollars. My grocery store, however, also carries nuts and other store wrapped dried fruits over by the produce. By walking three aisles I found equally good pine nuts for $4.99, and the bag contained twice as much as the jar. The only other thing I love with pine nuts is pesto. So if you make this salad, perhaps you could consider making fresh pesto the following night to serve on grilled chicken or pasta. But do something with it or I will have nightmares about a $10 jar of pine nuts going rancid in your pantry. I’d love to know about any other pine nut recipes you use, so speak up if you have any.

A word (or 100) on the mayonnaise: When I first made this salad, my homemade mayo was a dreadful failure. Then I, ahem, invented the Hellman’s method. I thought I could live with the defeat and move on happy with my little work-around. However, as I began the process of posting this recipe, this little voice in the back of my head started taunting me saying, “Are you really going to tell these people that you were defeated…by a condiment…you passed the  bar exam and you couldn’t make a simple dressing…really, is this how you were raised…etc..” You get my point.  So off I went to my kitchen. I had the supplies, and no good excuse. I did some research, the best of which I found on this wonderful website called Cooking for Engineers. There, no fewer than 100 commenters discussed their successes and failures with homemade mayonnaise. They discussed the safety issues of eggs, different oils that were employed, ways to not use eggs at all, temperature issues and hardware issues. Heartened, I tried the recipe using my food processor and a full twenty minutes of time. The “emulsion” process is a fragile one.  I truly spent the first 5 (or more) minutes adding my oil one drop at a time. Those initial drops have to be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding further drops. And, I have to say, IT WORKED beautifully.  I did it. I made a thick, rich mayonnaise. It was actually lovely. And, I was proud of myself for not giving up.

But, I will admit with a pure heart…the next time I make this salad, I’m still going to use the Hellman’s method.

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