Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

We’ve had more snow; the heavy, wet, messy kind that bends the tree branches and knocks down power lines.  I am so tired of the damp chill in the air and the gloomy grey skies.  I made this salad because I thought its Mediterranean flavors would cheer me up and it didn’t disappoint.  The secret ingredient is a whole orange, cooked with honey and vinegar, and pureed into a flavorful paste.  This, along with generous amounts of fresh green herbs, spicy chile, and crunchy fennel, make it a very special chicken salad. It’s colorful and refreshing and it may just make these last few days of winter more bearable.

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad
(serves 6)
1 orange
2 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) honey
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups (about 300 ml) water
2 1/4 pounds (1 kg.) boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 cup picked cilantro leaves
2/3 cup picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 red chile, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the top and tail of the orange and cut it into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on.  Remove any seeds.  Place the wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron, vinegar, and just enough of the water to cover the orange wedges.  Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about an hour.  At the end you should be left with soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup; add water during the cooking if the liquid gets very low.  Use a food processor to blitz the orange and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; again, add a little water if needed.  Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Mix the chicken breast with half the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper and place on a very hot ridged griddle pan.  Sear for about 2 minutes on each side to get clear char marks all over.  Transfer to a roasting pan and place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until just cooked.  Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, but still warm, tear it with your hands into rough, quite large pieces.  Place in a large mixing bowl, pour over half the orange paste, and stir well.  (The other half you can keep in the fridge for a few days or store in the freezer for the next batch of chicken salad).  Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the olive oil, and toss gently.  Taste, add salt and pepper, and, if needed, more olive oil and lemon juice.
( from “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

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