Earlier this week I was in the mood for buttermilk dressing. NOT Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing in a plastic bottle, or any other facsimile. I wanted REAL buttermilk dressing. You know, the kind with actual buttermilk in it. If you've never tasted freshly made buttermilk dressing, you need to promptly make a batch (and it's super easy, so it really is quick). Dressing made with actual buttermilk, garlic, lemon and herbs is almost an entirely different food than the bottled variety sold on grocery store shelves. And, once you try it, you'll never go back.
So after whipping up a jar (in less than 5 minutes, I might add to entice you to do the same) and dipping some snap peas and little yellow tomatoes in it, I realized I wanted to do more with my dressing. My daughter Sophie loves a chef's salad, so I started playing with the idea of reinventing and updating this dish a bit for our dinner. My first change was to abandon the standard roasted turkey element. None of us like it all that much anyway, so why bother? And, as long as we had already bought some buttermilk, why not make fried chicken tenders coated in panko and Spanish paprika instead? Ham slices also sounded boring, so I opted for prosciutto drizzled with olive oil and slightly crisped in the oven as a substitute. Of course we needed tomatoes (as they are in season and so sweet this time of year), but with salty prosciutto and crispy chicken, I wanted my tomatoes to stand out. I therefore decided to roast them to draw out their maximum sweetness. Finally, I needed to ponder the merits of including hard boiled eggs. I do quite like them, but wasn't sure how to serve them with fried chicken on greens. That's when I came upon the idea of poaching the eggs instead. I adore how the cracked yolk in poached eggs add richness to Salad Lyonnais, and thought it would also work well with fried chicken, bitter greens and prosciutto. And, because I have a hard time leaving well enough alone, I added some Scarichi to the buttermilk dressing for a new dimension of vinegary heat.
Served on rocket, the final result was a mix of everything I love on one plate. The sweet roasted tomatoes were the perfect foil to the salty prosciutto, while the fried chicken's crispiness and the poached eggs velvety yolks added a luxurious decadence. Mixed with Scarichi, the dressing added complexity and spiciness to the dish.
Better yet, both my kids loved this dish and ate lots of extra veggies on the side dipped in that luscious buttermilk dressing. You really can't ask for more in a family dinner.
Reinvented Chef Salad
Makes: 6 servings
1 lb clean rocket, arugula, or whatever green you like (I prefer the more bitter greens for this dish)
1 batch fried chicken tenders
6 pieces prosciutto
1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/4 lb Gruyere cheese cut into thin long strips
6 eggs gently poached (see instructions below)
1 batch fresh buttermilk salad dressing (with added Sriracha sauce if that’s your thing, and it should be if you a like a little heat in your dressing)
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Sprinkle olive oil on a baking sheet and lay the cut tomatoes on top. Sprinkle on more olive oil and sea or kosher salt. In a separate pan, do the same thing for the prosciutto slices.
3. Place the baking pans in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy. Remove prosciutto from the oven. Continue cooking the tomatoes until they look slightly singed and roasted and then remove them from the oven. When prosciutto is cool, break into 1-inch pieces.
4. Set out serving plates and stack you greens (rocket, arugula, etc.) in the middle of each one. Top with prosciutto pieces. Sprinkle on some buttermilk dressing and then set your chicken tenders on the green, placing the strips of gruyere and tomatoes on top of the chicken and greens. Finally, set your poached egg on the top, sprinkle on a bit more dressing and serve.
5. Serve with bread, or, even better, fresh buttermilk biscuits!
Note: Be sure to lightly poach your egg as the salad tastes wonderful when the yolk mixes into the rest of the salad.
Fresh Buttermilk Dressing
Makes: One batch
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
3 small or 2 medium green onions minced
1 Tbsp Italian parsley minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Scarichi, minced jalapenos, cayenne pepper or anything else spicy can be added to add some heat
1. Mince green onions (the white and green parts), parsley, and garlic. Set in a bowl.
2. Squeeze in your lemon and then add the buttermilk, sour cream and mayonnaise. Mix with a whisk.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste, and, if you want it a little spicy, 1 Tbsp Scarichi or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders
Makes: 6 servings
1 pound chicken tenders (the inner part of the breast) or 1 pound cut up chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp Spanish paprika (or regular if you don’t have any)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (leave this out if you don’t want it mildly spicy)
1 tsp salt
Enough vegetable oil for frying
1. Place chicken in a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Let sit overnight, or for at least one hour. When ready to cook, mix in one raw scrambled egg and thoroughly coat each piece of chicken.
2. Place panko, flour, paprika, cayenne (if using) and salt in a bag and shake. In batches (being sure not to overcrowd) place chicken pieces in the bag and gently shake so each piece is thoroughly coated. Remove chicken from bag and repeat until all chicken is coated.
3. Heat enough oil in a large pan to cover the bottom by 1/4-inch and when oil is hot, place enough chicken pieces in the pan to line the bottom (but don’t crowd the pan or they won’t crisp up). Brown on each side until golden and then remove from pan. If you want your chicken hot in the salad, you should hold the chicken in a 250 degree oven until ready. Continue frying until all the chicken is cooked. If the pan gets too hot (and you’ll know it will be too hot because your chicken will brown too fast) just lower the heat.
Tips for Poaching an Egg
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a slow simmer. Be sure not to fiercely boil the water. Also, you can add 1 tsp vinegar if you'd like, but it is not needed.
2. Crack egg in a dish and then gently slide the egg into the water. Gently capture any escaped white and push toward the egg.
3. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the whites are firm and then remove from the pot. Set on a dish until ready for use (no longer than 5 minutes).