Grilled Chicken Summer Salad with Blue Cheese

When I get really excited about a salad dressing (words that as a child I never thought I would say) I get a bit fixated on having the quintessentially perfect salad to go with the dressing. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, like choosing an outfit to match your lipstick, but when you find that perfect sheer cherry colored lip-stain that is just begging to be worn for after work cocktails…………and with that I have officially lost 78% of our male readership.

And so, for the ladies, let us now talk about salad.

My husband doesn’t get as excited about salad as I do.  Understandable, really, because most of the time the side salad with our dinner is little more than some assorted greens, a handful of chopped vegetables and whatever jar of dressing I happen to have kicking around the door of the fridge.  Not particularly tantalizing, and really just a nod to getting something on the plate that isn’t meat or (delicious) carbs. His focus, on the other hand, is all about the meat and carbs, and every time that I make a meal-sized salad for dinner I can actually see a cartoon thought bubble pop up over his head that says, “As soon as she leaves the room, I’m making hot dogs.”

That said, there are days in the summer which are simply so intolerably hot that neither one of us is willing to turn on the stove or make anything that requires more than a modicum of effort, and those are the days in which he can be easily persuaded to eat a big, filling salad for dinner with nary a complaint. I wait for those days and then I exploit them.

Last week, I officially got beyond my distaste for girly salad dressings by creating my own version of a Raspberry Poppy Seed that was less sweet and more balanced with savory shallot and tarragon. After thinking so long and hard about what to put into the dressing, I couldn’t just waste it on any old wilted spinach; I wanted the perfect summer salad which was light and fresh enough for those dog days of miserable heat, but robust with full flavors and protein that would leave us feeling satisfied.

A few weeks after the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, my fridge is still groaning with fermented dairy, so that was a good place to start.  I love combining a light and fruity summer salad with the muskiness of blue cheese, and I had the perfect one in mind and on hand. As for the main protein, it was such a relief when my pregnancy-hormones settled down and I could eat chicken again without gagging (after only 8 months…), that a simple but flavorful grilled chicken breast had to be included in the mix.  A bit of seasonal fruit to sweeten things up, thin slivers of red onion for brightness, the earthiness of toasted nuts and a sprinkle of tart-sweet dried cranberries, and I knew we had a winner on our hands.

Grilled Chicken Summer Salad with Blue Cheese

Serves 4

  • 750 g (~ 1.5 lb) boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2.5 tbsp plum jam *
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder **
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 10-12 cups mixed tender salad greens
  • 1/3 cup pecan pieces
  • 5 large black plums
  • 1/4 large red onion
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 75 g (~ 3 oz) blue cheese ***
  • Raspberry Poppy Seed Dressing, to taste

* If you don’t have plum jam, an equal amount of apricot jam and a small squeeze (about 2 tsp) of lemon juice will be just as good.

** I used my favorite (albeit rather generic) chili powder blend that is moderately spicy and a little bit smoky for  bit of kick.  You want it to add flavor and a touch of heat as well as just color.

*** Our choice was a local Canadian small batch artisan (read: difficult to source) cheese from Quebec that was aged, full flavored without being overwhelmingly musky and blue, a bit salty and soft but crumbly.  A similar substitute would be Spanish aged queso de Cabrales, or the slightly creamier and younger Roaring Forties.

Whisk together the plum jam, Dijon mustard, olive oil, chili powder and salt.

Trim off any undesirable bits from the chicken and then pound lightly a few times on the thickest part of the breast, using a mallet, so that the chicken is of roughly even thickness.  You don’t want it to be thin like an escalope, you just want it to cook evenly.  Slather the breasts with the plum sauce, really rubbing it on to the meat.  Set the chicken aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours for more flavor.

Pre-heat your grill to medium-high heat only on one side. Leave the other side off for ambient cooking.

In the mean time, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.  Remove the stones from the plums and roughly chop the fruit into bite sized pieces.  Very thinly slice the red onion (no more than 1/8″) and set both aside.

Toast the pecan pieces in the oven for a few minutes, or in a hot dry skillet, until the color starts to deepen and they are fragrant. Set these aside to cool.

Brush your grill grates with oil.  Grill the breasts for about 2-3 minutes per side on the hottest part of the grill, just to create grill marks and a bit of smoky flavor.  The sugar in the marinade will cause some lovely caramelization, but if you leave the breasts over high heat they will char.  As soon as the breasts are colored and can be released, move them over to the cooler part of the grill to continue cooking for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until they are relatively firm to the touch (but NOT hard or shrunken!) and cooked through.

Tent the chicken with foil and let it rest for at least 5 minutes as you assemble the salad. Letting the meat rest will redistribute the juices so that when you cut into it the meat won’t leech and dry out.

Toss the salad greens with the dressing and divide among the 4 plates.  Disperse the plums and onions equally and sprinkle on the cranberries and toasted pecan pieces.  Crumble the blue cheese and divide it among the salads before slicing the chicken breasts into strips and laying these on top.

Now tell me, is this not a beautiful grilled chicken summer salad?  Does this not put your boring old Cobb or Caesar to shame?

Healthy, delicious and full of robust flavors, this is the kind of grilled chicken salad that I can – and will – eat all summer long….with the occasional hot dog thrown in there to maintain marital bliss.