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Blood Orange Chicken Salad

February 20, 2013

For Christmas, my husband received a gift from a co-worker that really excited him.  And this is from a man who hardly gets excited over anything at all.  He was so excited about it he had to show it to me right away.

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What he received was a bottle of blood orange sauvignon vinaigrette.  My husband’s co-worker knew that we were foodies and thought of us when she was traveling up in Northern California and saw the vinaigrette at a local farmer’s market.  She explained to us that all of the ingredients that went into making the vinaigrette were locally grown and picked fresh to make small batches of various flavors of vinaigrettes that the merchants were selling, including this blood orange variety.  All of the ingredients are all-natural and fresh with no additives.  According to the tag, the vinaigrette is made with a combination of “blood orange olive oil coupled with sauvignon blanc vinegar (and a dash of Tres Classique magic).”  Blood oranges, which are a mutation from the 17th century in Sicily, Italy, are abundant in California from December to June, especially in the farm rich Central California region.

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So, what do you do with vinaigrette?  Make salad, of course.  In our case, we made a blood orange chicken salad using blood orange vinaigrette, candied walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, Fuji apples, grilled chicken and lettuce mix.  Simple, easy, and something that will accentuate the amazing blood orange vinaigrette.

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What do you do when you live in California, and have California-made blood orange vinaigrette for a salad you’re making and you need candied walnuts, you use California grown shelled walnuts, of course!  We’re lucky that one of the company clients in the business my husband works for owns a walnut farm in California.  As a “thank you” gift, the client often sends a box filled with bags and bags of shelled whole walnuts for the office to enjoy.  I’m not a huge nut person, but I do admit that making your own candied walnuts that you throw into a salad is pretty darn good.

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Using a small skillet on the stove, throw a handful of the walnuts right into the skillet.  There’s no need for oil since they won’t be cooking long, and because the nuts have their own natural oils.  Stir the walnuts around, and when the pan starts to heat up, drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of honey right into the pan.  Continue stirring the walnuts so that the honey coats all of the walnuts.  Keep the skillet on the stove until the sugars in the honey begin to caramelize.  Keep an eye on it so that the walnuts don’t burn.  When the sugar has caramelized and the walnuts turn a deep golden brown color, take the skillet off the stove and you’ve got yourself candied walnuts.

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While the walnuts are candied in a skillet on the stove, you’ll want to prepare your chicken.  This is a blood orange chicken salad after all, so you’ll need the chicken.  Small dice the chicken into 1/2-inch pieces.  Throw the diced chicken into a basic marinade to add flavor to your chicken.  I made a marinade which consisted of minced garlic, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, honey (which mimics the flavors in the candied walnuts), dijon mustard and a little bit of olive oil.  One of the nice things about dicing the chicken before you marinade it is the fact that the chicken really has a chance to absorb the flavors of the marinade when it’s diced this small.  If you took a whole chicken breast and marinated it for just 30 minutes and then cooked it, you’d never get any flavor out of the chicken breast because it’s not enough time for the chicken breast to absorb the marinade.  With small diced pieces, and quick dinner salad, the marinade really gets a chance to be absorbed by the dice chicken.  You can really taste the marinade when you eat the salad.

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We’re going to be grilling our diced chicken.  On the stove, heat up a grill pan on high heat.  Once the pan is hot, to the point of smoking, dump your marinated chicken into the grill pan, marinade and all.  Our grill pan is a non-stick pan, but the olive oil in the marinade will also help to keep the chicken from sticking to the grill pan.  Grill the diced chicken thoroughly.

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You can start assembling the salad now.  Into a bowl goes the salad greens.  In this case we got a spring mix, but any mix of greens would work.  The spring mix is good because you get a variety of greens, including the more bitter radicchio, and the peppery arugula mixed with milder and sweeter greenleaf and redleaf lettuce.

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Added to your bowl of salad greens is the apple.  The apple in the salad adds a nice amount of sweetness to add to the flavor profile of the salad.  Plus, the fruit mixes well with the blood orange vinaigrette.  We chose to use a crisp Fuji apple, but you can choose any apple you’d like.

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The apple should be cored and then small diced.  You want bite-sized apple pieces that are easy to eat in your salad.  The other option would be to thin-slice your apple into bigger slivers.  You just don’t want large chunks of apples.  When the diced apple is ready, toss it into the bowl with the salad greens.

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Add the candied walnuts right into the bowl with the salad greens and the diced apple.  It’s fine that the candied walnuts are still warm.  This is a warm salad, and eventually, the heat from your grilled chicken will wilt the salad greens anyway.  Don’t worry about it.

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Drizzle the blood orange vinaigrette into the salad bowl.  Since the grilled chicken already has flavor to it, I don’t want to lose its flavor by pouring the blood orange vinaigrette over the grilled chicken, so I add the vinaigrette to the salad now before I add the grilled chicken.  In this case, this blood orange vinaigrette has a strong flavor and aroma, so a little bit goes a long way.  This is really a case of less is more.  You only need a little bit of vinaigrette to flavor the salad.  Once you’ve added the vinaigrette, toss the salad to make sure that the salad greens and diced apples are coated with dressing.

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It’s time for the finishing touches on the salad.  To add a kick of flavor to the salad, something tangy and with a bit of a bite, we decided to add some crumbled Gorgonzola cheese to the salad.  Gorgonzola works perfect because it pairs nicely with the acidity of the citrus vinaigrette and it balances the sweetness from the candied walnuts and diced applies.

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To the tossed salad, add the grilled chicken, and then immediately sprinkle over the Gorgonzola crumbles.  Something unexpected happened that we weren’t expecting, but loved the results.  The heat from the grilled chicken started to melt the Gorgonzola cheese.  What we ended up with was some crumbles of Gorgonzola that added a nice tang to the salad, but also a creamy, almost sauce-like Gorgonzola that coated the chicken which just added extra flavor to the chicken.  It was terrific and really added another layer of flavor.

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Give the salad a quick taste to make sure that it has enough dressing.  If not, add a bit more.  But again, remember that a little bit goes along way.  The salad has the terrific essence of the blood orange vinaigrette, there’s an aroma of fresh citrus and a nice tangy bite from the creamy Gorgonzola.  Add the flavors of the sweet and crunchy candied walnuts and the crunch and sweetness of the Fuji apples.  This is a delicious, easy-to-make, and incredibly healthy dish.  My husband is in love with the blood orange chicken salad.  I’m not sure what we’re going to do when the bottle of dressing runs out!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    February 20, 2013 11:46 am

    If you can get your hands on any blood oranges, you should have him try making his own dressing from them. You never know, might turn out ok. Salad dressing is usually pretty easy to make. Your salad looks delicious, by the way.

    • February 21, 2013 12:12 pm

      We generally do make our own salad dressings, but I think blood oranges are hard to find in season since their growing period is so short!

  2. February 28, 2013 4:36 pm

    I think I would love your chicken salad. I just bought some blood oranges which are very hard to find here in New Hampshire. I’m going to make a salad as well. I hope it turns out well.

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