I have been making this salad for years. One of its main selling points is that it has a vinaigrette dressing instead of mayonnaise. So, if you are going to a picnic or a potluck and you cannot be assured of good refrigeration, you don’t have to sweat it. Also, this has a unique flavor. The wild rice and almond slivers provide excellent textural components, and the tarragon is, in a word, pleasant. I have used Mexican Mint Marigold in the place of tarragon. Also called Cloud Plant in Mexico, this hardy herb is a great stand in for tarragon. I had not heard of it until I planted my herb garden this year and so far I am very happy with it. If you are having trouble finding French tarragon, try Mexican Mint Marigold.
This recipe from Stop and Smell the Rosemary, a must-have cookbook for anyone who collects Junior League cookbooks, originally called for raw wild rice. I totally endorse using wild rice if you choose to. This is the long black rice from Minnesota and Canada. It is firm and has a nutty flavor. It is, however, a bit expensive and sometimes hard to find without white rice mixed in with it. I chose to use a Lundberg Farms wild and brown rice medley that I found in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods for this, and I was very happy with the results. Know that either is fine. I have used and love both. I have modified the ingredients and amounts a bit, but some angel in the Junior League of Houston gets full credit for the recipe and should be commended. I used to send this off with my husband and his buddy Beall when they would go to skeet shoots. I haven’t made it much recently. But I will be putting it back into heavy rotation. It makes an excellent summer dinner, served with hot, crusty bread.
One final note before I begin the recipe. If you are waiting more than 24 hours to serve this, consider doubling (or at least increasing by half) the amount of dressing that you make. It is very nice to be able to refresh the dressing right before serving. At a minimum, reserve some of the dressing to add right before serving even if you choose not to make more.
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (or Mexican Mint Marigold)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1-½ cups wild rice blend or 1 cup raw wild rice (to yield 3 cups cooked)
1 to 1-¼ pounds chicken tenderloins (to yield 3 cups cooked and chopped)
¾ cup chopped celery
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In an oven safe dish, combine the rice and 2-⅓ cups boiling water. Add a dash of salt and tightly cover the dish with tin foil. Carefully transfer the dish to the oven and allow it to cook for approximately 45 minutes. Remove the foil very carefully and check the rice for doneness. When satisfied, remove it from the oven and fluff it with a fork. Allow it to sit uncovered until it cools. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
To cook the chicken, season it with salt and pepper and cook it in a grill pan or non-stick saute pan until it is opaque. Transfer the chicken to a plate to rest and cover it with loosely tented foil. When it is sufficiently cooled, chop it into small chunks, discarding any fatty bits. (With tenders there is a little tendon at the large end which I do not like and I always cut out after cooking for aesthetic and textural reasons.)
Place the slivered almonds on a cookie sheet and toast them in the 325 degree oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they go from perfect to destroyed very quickly.
In a small lidded jar, combine all the dressing ingredients and shake them well to emulsify.
Place all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl and add about ¾ of the dressing. Stir to combine. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to cool completely. Add the remaining dressing right before serving and stir the salad to distribute the dressing. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
You can use 3-4 chicken breasts just as easily as the tenders. And you can poach them in chicken broth instead of pan grilling them if you prefer. Do yourself a favor and buy good chicken. It saves so much time in that you don’t need to brine it and you aren’t disappointed in chewy results. I think there are probably loads of people out there who think they are not good cooks when they, in fact, have been working with inferior meats. You can fake it in the produce aisle most of the time. But, aside from ground beef, I do not think you can fake it in the meat department. I would rather eat meat fewer nights during the week and pay extra for excellent meat and poultry the rest of the time.