The easy recipe
“Now in the cold parts of the country, don’t you think people get to wanting perishable things in the winter—like peas and lettuce and cauliflower? In a big part of the country they don’t have those things for months and months. And right here in the Salinas Valley we can raise them all year round.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Living in the Salinas Valley has piqued my interest in learning more about the local agricultural community. Since World War I, the economic growth of the Valley has been driven by agriculture. With changes in technology, food safety and consumer preferences Athena and I wanted to learn more about our local food sources. Matt Lyons, of River Ranch Fresh Foods graciously shared his knowledge about about growing lettuce in the Salinas Valley.
Located on the eastern side of the city of Salinas, a trip to River Ranch Fresh Foods Fanoe Ranch was a spectacular visual treat. The ranch was a riot of chartreuse greens and crimson reds set out in cultivated rows of River Ranches new Heritage Blend salad mix. Framed by the Gabilan Mountains on the valley’s eastern side, the field seemed as if it had been painted in broad strokes of brilliantly colored lettuces which shimmered in the spring light. Matt Lyons explained that these unique, non GMO, varieties of petite lettuces were developed just for River Ranch and their Heritage Blend. As a novice to identifying petite lettuce varieties the lettuces really didn’t look too different than the larger leaves in the familiar spring mix. When I tasted the Heritage Blend I fully understood the difference. Robust and full of flavor, it is bolder in texture and color than spring mix with a hint of arugulas spiciness. It was the perfect foundation for this easy Chicken and Bread Salad.
Ready to add a little decadence to your weeknight dinners? Or perhaps searching for a great weekend recipe that goes together fast that is delicious and inexpensive to make? Have you heard of the famous Zuni Café’s “Roast Chicken with Bread Salad”? A whole chicken is brined overnight, roasted and served with a delectable bread salad. I have made various adaptations of the famous Zuni Café Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, each with merit but each taking more time to prepare and clean up than I wish to spend. Most scrumptious and exceptional is Naomi Pomeroy’s “Rolled Chicken with Fontina and Sage.” My family absolutely adores this recipe! But it’s highly caloric and messy to prepare. It was when I read through The Kitchn’s “Crispy Chicken Thighs and Warm Bread Salad” recipe that I thought to simplify the recipe even further. There were certainly no complaints from my family. When this Chicken and Bread Salad is served the only murmuring heard is whether or not any crispy bread remains.
A crisp and flavorful green is the best platform for this salad. We liked the variety in taste, texture and color that the Heritage Blend brought to the salad. Arugula, frisee or even Romaine would be alternatives. Spring mix is just not assertive enough and will wilt into a puddle under the chicken and bread.
Without any loss in flavor, but with a substantial savings in time and clean up my adaptation of the classic includes roasting the chicken, but not a frying and roasting mess. Simplify further by keeping it easy. Use fresh or dried herbs. Use a crusty bread fresh or day old and sourdough is OK. The recipe is quick, simple, inexpensive and yet has all the decadent flavor of the original recipe.
|For the chicken and bread|
|8||chicken thighs, bone-in, skin attached|
|2 T||olive oil|
|1 loaf||crusty French bread, day old is best, sourdough is fine, just not a soft bread|
|1 T||thyme, fresh or dried|
|1 T||sage, fresh or dried and crumbled|
|For the salad and dressing|
|8 C||Heritage Blend lettuce mix or other robust greens|
|1/4 C||wine vinegar, red if available|
|2 T||olive oil|
- Preheat the oven to 425°. Trim chicken of excess fat, leaving the tops of the thighs covered with skin. Pat the thighs dry and place in a baking dish (9 x13 or similar) large enough so that they are not touching, but no so large that the pan juices will evaporate. Brush the tops of the thighs lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and then sprinkle with thyme and sage. Bake for 35-40 minutes until cooked. The thighs will be golden brown and the juices will run clear when the meat is pierced. Remove from the oven and place the thighs on a separate plate. Cover to keep warm. Reserve all the pan juices. Leave the oven turned on.
- While the chicken cooks prepare the bread by either cutting or tearing it into approximately 1 inch cubes. I find it easier and faster to cut the bread with a bread knife. The flat surfaces of the cut bread also brown nicely. For a rustic presentation, tear the bread.
- Clean the lettuce, set aside.
- Mix together a simple vinaigrette. Wisk together the wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
- Melt the butter in a large baking/sheet pan with sides. Use the largest sheet pan you have so the bread surfaces have room to toast. Place the pan the hot oven for a few minutes until the butter is melted. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 475 °. Scrape all the pan dripping from the chicken thighs onto the baking sheet. Swirl the butter and pan drippings together. Add the bread and toss to coat as many surfaces of the bread as possible. When the bottom of the pan is almost dry stop tossing and place the pan in the hot oven to toast the bread. Watch the bread carefully as it can quickly burn. After five to seven minutes toss the bread to toast the remaining surfaces. Toss a few more times until most the bread has developed a crunchy exterior and is toasty brown. As an alternative, the bread can be toasted in a large skillet with the butter and drippings. The resulting bread will be softer, akin to the bread of a grilled cheese sandwich, which still makes a mighty fine dinner.
- Toss the vinaigrette with the lettuces and arrange on serving plates. Arrange bread and chicken on top of lettuces and serve.
This is not a sponsored post. The recipe and opinions are my own. I was given a bag of delectable Heritage Lettuce Blend to sample after a tour of the Fanoe Ranch.