Recipe: Chicken Salad with Radicchio, Pine Nuts, and Caper Berries
When I’m stuck in the city on a summer weekend, I want to cook food that’s appropriate for an outdoor barbecue or a picnic, just to feel a semblance of summer freedom and fun. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, depending on how much I manage to sweat up the apartment. We have only one small air conditioner, and it’s in the bedroom, but often it does the trick, cooling off the entire place. It was, however, not up to the task last night, when I decide to make cookout-inspired barbecued chicken on a stove-top grill plate. Within the confines of my little kitchen, the entire project was out of control—too much oil, smoke everywhere, sweat pouring down my neck, my eyeballs red and burning. Luckily we ripped the smoke detector thingy out of the wall years ago. Wow, what a mess. The walls were covered with a thin grease slick. After all that, I had no appetite for the chicken. All I wanted was a cold glass of vodka.
So today I have a ton of charred chicken in my refrigerator, but at least I don’t have to cook tonight and burn the place up again. Tonight we’ll have a nice summer picnic instead of a barbecue. Tonight we’ll have chicken salad. I’ve ripped into that chicken and discovered it was tender, moist, and delicious under all that char. I decided I wanted to have my picnic in the Sicilian countryside, maybe in the shade of Mount Etna, so the salad got caper berries, pine nuts, lots of excellent Sicilian olive oil (Ravida, of course), and a great bitter edge from a ruffly, loose ball of radicchio I had just picked up at the Greenmarket. It was a fine picnic in a cool apartment.
Note: I use caper berries in this salad. You may be more familiar with capers, which are the flower buds from the Mediterranean caper, a shrub. Caper berries are the mature fruit of the plant. About the size of grapes, they’re preserved in brine or salt the same way capers are, and they taste quite like capers, maybe a bit gentler, but with a very different texture. When you bite into one, you discover that it’s filled with little seeds and is very crunchy. The best ones I’ve found in this country are Sicilian, produced by Agostino Recca. They’re packaged in white wine vinegar. Just give them a gentle rinse before using.
Chicken Salad with Radicchio, Pine Nuts, and Caper Berries
1 small roasted or barbecued chicken, cooked until just tender, warm or at room temperature
A handful of caper berries, rinsed
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus a handful of celery leaves
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small head radicchio, cut into chiffonade, leaving 4 leaves whole to use as a salad bed
A handful of basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
The juice and grated zest from 1 small lemon
1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
A teaspoon of Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Pull all the meat off of the chicken. You can leave some of the skin on if it’s not too charred. Slice the meat thinly, and place it in a large salad bowl. Add the caper berries, pine nuts, celery and celery leaves, red onion, sliced radicchio, and basil.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and zest, garlic, Dijon mustard, sugar, and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, possibly a bit more, seasoning the dressing well with salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss well. Taste for seasoning (you may want more salt or black pepper or something, depending on how much seasoning your chicken had to begin with; I had marinated mine in olive oil, lemon, marjoram, garlic, and a bit of hot chili, so it provided a flavorful base).
Set out four salad plates, and line each one with a radicchio leaf. Pile the salad on top. Serve right away.