I really love a good main-course salad. The trouble is, it's hard to make a salad that's really interesting without going off the deep end in terms of complexity, cost, or both. This salad is an attempt to split the difference - it's a main-course salad composed of very classic salad ingredients, but with enough added complexity to keep it interesting without breaking the bank.
I'm obviously a lover of barbecue, so I decided to carry that love into my salad. The salad involves both barbecue chicken breast and a tangy, barbecue-based dressing. The tang and spice of the barbecue are offset by sweet red pepper and carrot, and candied almonds add some crunch and another lay of sweet-and-meaty flavor.
It doesn't take a lot to make a decent salad. I just use fresh romaine for my greens, but you can feel free to spice it up as desired. Red pepper and carrots round out the vegetable array. We'll cook the chicken in barbecue sauce to give it some flavor. Candy slivered almonds in just a bit of sugar and butter as a sort of stand-in for a crouton. You can dress the salad however you like, but I really enjoyed the simple barbecue dressing I made from barbecue sauce, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil.
The chicken is the lengthiest part of this salad's quick preparation. Toss it into a greased baking dish, cover with some barbecue sauce, and throw it in the oven at 400 for 15-20 minutes. Turn it halfway to make sure everything gets nice and saucy, and take care not to overcook.
Once the chicken is on its way, we can prepare the vegetables. Rinse your romaine well and chop it down to nice, bite-sized pieces.
Give the carrots and red peppers a good dice as well, and toss in with the romaine. The vegetable portion of the salad is now complete!
It's surprisingly easy to candy almonds - all it takes is some careful attention. That's why we did all of the other preparation first, as you really don't want to be tempted to turn your back on the pan and chop carrots - next thing you know, you'll have a pan full of burned sugar.
To get started, put a skillet on over medium heat. Once it's warm, add your slivered almonds and toast for a couple of minutes until they start to darken. The best way to judge when they're getting toasted is by smell - the whole kitchen will suddenly take on a deep, toasty, nutty aroma.
Once the almonds are toasted, add just a bit of butter to the pan, then slowly add some sugar. Start with about a tablespoon, then mix well, keeping the nuts moving constantly. The sugar will melt clear almost immediately on making contact with the pan, and will start to burn just seconds later unless you keep everything in motion.
After a minute or so, add a second tablespoon of sugar and continue mixing. Add a touch more sugar after another minute if you think it's necessary.
Once the sugar starts to darken on the nuts, transfer your candied almonds to cool on some wax or parchment paper. Spread them out on the paper, otherwise they'll all be stuck together in one lumpy ball of deliciousness. That's not exactly a fate worse than death, but makes them hard to sprinkle over salad.
At this point, your chicken is probably about done, so it's time to get things ready to plate.
While you wait for the chicken to finish up, make some dressing. The exact ratios to use depend on your barbecue of choice. I like my dressing quite tangy, so I used quite a bit of lime juice and vinegar. Combine barbecue sauce, apple-cider vinegar, lime juice, and a touch of olive oil in a small bowl, and mix well with a small whisk or a fork. The dressing will want to separate eventually, but holds together for a good couple of hours after a good mixing,
Pull out the chicken, and slice it up. Be careful, hot barbecue sauce is akin to napalm.
Now serve! Cover your greens with the sliced chicken breast and plenty of candied almonds. Dress lightly, to let the flavors speak for themselves. Each bite should have lots of complex flavor - tender chicken, crisp lettuce, sweet red pepper and carrot, crisp, sweet, meaty almonds, and just a hint of acidic tang from the dressing.
Recipe: Barbecue Chicken Salad with Candied Almonds
Prep Time: 5-10 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8-10
- 1/4 cup Barbecue Sauce
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking pan.
Add chicken breast to baking pan and cover with barbecue sauce. Bake 20 minutes or until chicken tests done, turning halfway.
Chop romaine lettuce down to bite-sized pieces. Dice red pepper and carrot. Mix all vegetables in a large salad bowl.
In a skillet over medium heat, toast slivered almonds 2-3 minutes until beginning to darken. Add butter and sugar one tablespoon at a time.
Mix well, keeping almonds in motion, 2-3 minutes until all sugar is added and beginning to darken.
Cool candied almonds in a single layer on wax paper.
Whisk together barbecue sauce, olive oil, lime juice, and vinegar in a small bowl until no longer separated.
When chicken is done, slice carefully.
Serve sliced chicken and candied almonds over mixed greens and vegetables, topping conservatively with dressing.