In this simple autumn seasonal salad, poached chicken is shredded and is tossed with rocket, apple, fennel and toasted walnuts
One of my favourite things about September in the UK is the warm blast of an Indian Summer day that has me wanting lighter foods like this salad for lunch before we move to the chills that have us craving heartier fare. It was exactly this time last year that I moved to San Francisco for six months. With their warmest weather often felt in September and October, I’m feeling particularly nostalgic today.
Earlier this month, I created and taught three recipes at my Autumn Salads cooking class at Blackheath Cooks. The class focused on the abundance of UK autumnal seasonal vegetables:
I worked out which seasonal vegetables went well together and created three different recipes to demonstrate how versatile salads can be – leafy, hearty or just plain pretty, all dressed with a flavour-unifying dressing, and pimped up with a smattering of toppings such as nuts.
My first recipe was hearty, a smokey roasted veggie & chickpea salad, with a dukkah hazelnut topping. My second a hearty-leafy hybrid, a watercress, roasted beetroot & chicory salad topped with goats cheese & a honey & thyme dressing. My final was this leafy chicken salad which brings together three distinct flavours – the earthy fennel, the bright, sweet apple, and the sharp rocket.
Fennel isn’t a familiar vegetable – but I love to use it in all kinds of recipes. Its delicious anise notes can be enjoyed thinly sliced raw, or roasted where the texture ends up quite like onion. Here the strong flavor balances well with the sweet apple, bitter rocket and earthy walnuts.
Chicken adds a good dose of protein to this recipe. Choose legs or thighs as they have more flavor than breast meat, and are cheaper, too. Poaching the meat ensures the chicken is moist enough to shred for the salad. You could of course roast a whole chicken, and use the leftovers in this salad.
- 1-2 large skin-on chicken leg (or 2-4 boned highs) for poaching & shredding (preferably free-range/organic)
- Aromatics of choice for poaching – e.g 2 cloves garlic, tsp apple cider vinegar, dried herbs such as thyme. Lemon zest*
- 50g walnuts
- lemon juice*
- 1 medium bulb fennel
- 50g Rocket
- 1 apple (Braeburn or Granny Smith work well)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
- ½ tsp French Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbs lemon juice*, apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs chopped mint leaves. Reserve a few leaves to garnish the salad (optional)
- pinch salt
- twist black pepper
- Place the chicken legs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add aromatics. Bring the water to the boil, then lower to a simmer, cover and leave to cook for 20-25 minutes. The chicken is ready when no pink meat remains (the internal temperature should be approximately 75 degrees C, if you have a meat thermometer to check).
- Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add a touch of lemon juice.
- Next, prepare the dressing. Place the fennel seeds and mustard in a small bowl, add the lemon juice, then whisk in olive oil, add seasoning and stir in the chopped mint.
- Prepare the fennel by removing the stems, leveling off the bottom, slicing in half vertically and cutting out the root, then slicing the fennel into thin shreds. Toss the fennel with a Tablespoon of the dressing, and set aside.
- When the chicken is ready, remove it from the pan and leave to cool for a few minutes before removing the skin and bones and using 2 forks to shred it into bite sized pieces.
- To assemble the salad, toss the rocket with the dressed fennel, slice up the apple (don’t cut it earlier or it will go brown), the shredded chicken and the rest of the dressing. Top with walnuts, a few reserved sprigs of mint and some lemon zest.
I have added this seasonal recipe to ‘‘Simple and in Season’‘ for September – hosted by Franglais Kitchen and Ren Behan