I am a member of the San Francisco Professional Food Society (SFPFS), which hosts an amazing variety of events throughout the year. When those activities are classes or demonstrations by members, all the attendees bring an item for a potluck dinner at the end of the evening.
I recently attended one of their events and wanted to make something that is delicious, travels well, and can be served at room temperature or lightly warmed. I had a rice salad in mind, but then I found out that most of the other people were bringing desserts or salads. I thought I would bring something a bit more substantial because I for one would be very hungry by the time we sat down to eat.
Many rice salads are extremely boring, but this one is packed with flavor. It is seasoned with a lot of freshly grated citrus zest (I used orange, lemon and lime this time), drizzled with a delightful citrus vinaigrette made with freshly squeezed juices, and chock full of aromatics and herbs. You can keep it really simple or add as many vegetables as you want.
When I thought about adding chicken to the salad, I didn’t want to introduce competing flavors so I increased the amount of vinaigrette and used part of it as a marinade for the chicken before sautéing it. You could also add a can of drained black beans and replace the flat leaf parsley with cilantro for a Caribbean-style meal.
As another way of boosting the flavors and to make it feel more like a main course than a side salad, I added vegetables to the chicken. I merged the classic French combination of onions, celery and carrots and the Cajun blend of onions, celery and bell peppers. French mirepoix meets the Cajun Holy Trinity! I used the sweet Italian peppers from my father-in-law’s garden, which added nice color and flavor. Thanks Bill!
Without the chicken this makes a delightful side salad. If you want a vegetarian main course, adding beans makes it a complete meal with proteins and carbohydrates. You could also substitute another grain, such as barley, farro, quinoa, or even pasta – just make sure you adjust the cooking times and volume of liquid according to the directions on the package.
When I first tasted the vinaigrette I thought it was good but fairly strong, then I realized that when combined with the fairly neutral rice it would provide the perfect amount of acid and brightness to lift the entire dish. Boy was I right. I am absolutely in love with this salad and know you will enjoy it too.
This salad makes a very satisfying main course and is so good that I am on my third bowl. I also love that it isn’t your ordinary potluck dish, I know that it won’t be repeated on the dinner buffet. If you bring this to your parties, you won’t have any leftovers to take home!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
You can use the white parts of the green onions instead of the half onion when cooking the chicken. This will give you a milder overall onion flavor in the salad.
Kitchen Skill: Cooling Cooked Grains and Rice
The best way to keep rice and other grains from sticking together and getting gummy is to cool them, separating the grains with a fork. I usually put the cooked grains in a very large mixing bowl (a baking sheet also works well) and use two forks to “rake” the rice.
I then move the grains up the sides of the bowl creating funnel shape – the more surface area exposed to the air, the faster it cools. Every 15 minutes or so I toss it together, rake it and form the funnel again. It can take an hour or so to cool thoroughly and this may seem like a lot of senseless bother, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of your final product.
Chicken and Rice Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Modified recipe from Giada De Laurentiis
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
3 tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (approx. 12 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
3/4 cup Citrus Vinaigrette (from above)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp organic olive oil
1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, finely chopped
3/4 cup sliced almonds, divided
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups brown basmati or long grain brown rice, rinsed
1-1/4 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large orange, zested
1 large lemon, zested, divided
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced green onions
For the Citrus Vinaigrette: In a blender, combine the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, honey, and cumin. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. (The blender makes quick work of making this vinaigrette and helps it stay emulsified.)
Prepare and Marinate the Chicken: Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces, no larger than 1-inch cubes. Place in a resealable plastic bag along with 3/4 cup of the citrus vinaigrette. Seal the bag and marinate chicken in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Toast the Almonds: Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes until lightly golden; shake pan halfway through. Remove from oven and cool completely.
For the Rice Salad: While the chicken is marinating, make the rice. In a medium saucepan with a lid, bring the chicken stock, salt, and oil to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice. Cover the saucepan, reduce the heat, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 40 minutes. (To tell when the moisture has been absorbed, drag a spoon through the rice, leaving a channel. If liquid runs into the channel, the rice needs more time.) Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
Using a fork, fluff the rice and place in a large serving bowl. Add the parsley, orange zest, half of the lemon zest, green onions, and 1/4 cup of the almonds. Toss well. Set aside while you cook the chicken.
If you are not going to be serving this immediately or want to serve it the next day, toss the rice with two forks every 15 minutes or so until it is cooled to room temperature. This will help keep it from clumping.
Cook Chicken: Using a slotted spoon remove chicken from the marinade; discard marinade. Pat excess marinade off the chicken with paper towels.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken pieces. There is enough oil in the marinade that you shouldn’t have to any to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate.
Add the oil to the skillet. When hot add the vegetables. Cook, stirring often until mostly softened, about 4 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices on the plate. Toss together, cook until everything is warm and remove from the heat.
To Serve: Pour half the remaining vinaigrette over the rice mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chicken and vegetables. Toss to combine evenly. Taste and add more vinaigrette if you want. (I used it all.) Adjust seasonings as needed.
Garnish with the remaining lemon zest and almonds. Tuck a few extra sprigs of the flat leaf parsley. Can be served warm or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.
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