Beach Picnics Part 1 – Chicken Salad Sandwiches

The last couple of weekends I’ve been lucky enough to have Tim free on Sundays. Since we sometimes work opposite schedules, it’s a real treat when we both have a day off. We had been making a routine of hitting up brunch at The Hammered Lamb over on Ivanhoe Row. It’s the only place that has been able to break me of my standard eggs benedict and mimosa meal. Now I always order a BLT and their bloody mary bar. I’m definitely one of those classless assholes that tops their bloody mary with four pieces of bacon, two skewers of blue cheese stuffed olives, a few artichoke hearts and a stick of string cheese. I tried their BLT on a whim, since I’ve had a very strict policy ever since I was a toddler that bread and vegetables like raw tomato and lettuce should never meet. Sometimes food just beckons you, I suppose.

There is also a very distinct flavor in their BLT. They use an herbed mayo that is rife with thyme. I love herbs on my eggs, and its not uncommon for me to sprinkle herbes des Provence on eggs when cooking breakfast at home. I feel like you usually find thyme in much more rich and savory dishes, like French onion soup or anything else where beef is simmered for hours. But thyme also has a wonderful flavor that works well with lighter dishes, like eggs and chicken.

The Florida summer has really had me yearning for the beach, however. I usually never go because I got in the habit of only going for 2 or 3 hours and then heading home. When I was growing up in New Smyrna Beach, that was fine. Now that I live in Orlando and it’s easily an hour before I can even put a foot in the sand, I’d rather make a day of it. Tim and I took our brunch money and invested in all the tools necessary to make us look like every other Orlando resident that I grew up annoyed by yet thankful for; my beach umbrella, cooler and chairs a reminder of my time working at Mon Delice where I’d make sub sandwiches and box pastries up for the tourists.

I had been wanting to hit up Playalinda in Titusville. To keep us on the beach, I decided I’d pack the cooler with a great picnic spread. First, I’d make big chicken salad sandwiches on wheat buns. I chopped up some cucumber slices and celery sticks to go with hummus. For dessert, I made rosemary lemon shortbread cookies. Those actually turned out to be quite the Pinterest Fail, and I’ll be sure to post all about that so you can enjoy. For good measure I grabbed the vodka and a bottle of bloody mary mix.

Chicken salad is one of those recipes that I always forget how much I like. Although it can be labor-intensive, I enjoy how few ingredients it takes. Its also pretty cheap to make because I take bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and roast them in the oven. Not only are they half the cost of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but they have so much more flavor and moisture when you cook them.

The labor-intensive part is standing in the kitchen pulling the meat from the bone and shredding it by hand. Not only will you be able to make sure you separate the little bones and bits of cartilage, but I think the long shreds hold the sauce nicely and give a different texture. I also have made this recipe with salmon I’ve cooked. Salmon goes wonderfully with either herb, but especially with dill. Again, you’ll want to flake the salmon apart by hand; that will keep the thick flaky texture instead of mushy like bad tuna fish salad.

There are other ingredient swaps you can use in this recipe. For the mustard, I have Dijon listed. I’m also a big fan of stone ground mustard or even deli-style mustard with chicken in particular. I like to use a combination of half mayo – half low fat Greek yogurt to lighten it up. I’ve also made this with just Greek yogurt, but we like the extra richness the mayo gives. Play around with the proportions that you like, or even try with a vegan or paleo mayonnaise. Get funky.

dancing gif

2 Chicken breasts with the bone in and skin on, or about 3 cups of cooked shredded chicken
1 Cup celery, diced
½ Cup Mayo
½ Cup Greek Yogurt
¼ Cup Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. Thyme or Dill
Salt and Pepper, to taste

1. If you’re starting with uncooked chicken, bake the chicken breasts skin-side up in an open pan at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Let them cool until they are cool enough to handle with your hands.

2. Discard the chicken skin… Or snack on it like I do while I make this! Its like chicken bacon.

3. Shred the chicken using your hands.

4. Combine all ingredients except the salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

5. Check the mixture for seasoning. Some mustards have different flavors, so get a feel for where your flavors are at before adding additional salt and pepper. I usually will add about 1 teaspoon of salt at this point.

6. Let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least an hour before making your sandwiches.

Sides: French Potato Salad

This is another stab of mine at an Ina Garten recipe. That woman really does no wrong in my book, and this recipe proves just that. I’m a big fan of Southern-style potato salad, but this one is so fresh and flavorful with the tangy vinaigrette and fresh herbs that it’s a nice detour from mayo-heavy potato salads that we’re used to.

I will be honest, I’m not crazy about recipes that call for a million ingredients. I’m also not a fan of ingredients that are highly-specialized or very expensive. However, I passed up my usual six pack of fancy beer and decided to pick up some fancy vinegar instead. Luckily my grocer had a clearance on a walnut champagne vinegar. Even on sale, this shit was like $7 for 6.75 oz. But once you add your vinaigrette to the warm potatoes and you get a nose full, you’ll understand. And when your friends are asking you what that flavor is in the back that they just can’t place and you casually say, “Oh. It’s just this champagne vinegar I picked up. Sounded like a good idea at the time…” Get ready for the eyebrows. Shit just got real.

Here we go:

2 lbs of small potatoes (I love the little red ones, but feel free to add the white and reds together for color)
3 Tbs champagne vinegar (I used a walnut champagne for extra flavor… and it was on sale)
½ tsp Dijon mustard
10 Tbs quality extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup minced scallions, white and green
2 Tbs minced fresh dill
2 Tbs minced parsley
2 Tbs chiffonade of basil

1. Get a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add some salt, the same way you would if you were cooking pasta. Add the potatoes and cook for 20-30 minutes. Once tender, drain them and then add them back to the pot and throw the lid on them. This will let them steam, which lets them develop this creamy texture. Sounds nuts, but just go with it.

2. While your potatoes are at the spa, add your vinegar, mustard, oil, salt and pepper to a glass jar*. Shake it furiously until all of the ingredients combine to make a smooth dressing-like vinaigrette.

3. Take your warm potatoes and chop them into thick cubes. This may mean you’re quartering them, or if you’re using larger potatoes you’ll need to cube them a little smaller. Do what feels right.

4. Toss the potatoes with the vinaigrette, then add your fresh herbs. The warm potatoes will absorb the vinaigrette like a sponge, unlike if they were cold. The end results will be tasty potatoes literally packed with flavor from the inside out. Serve this warm or at room temperature.

French Potato Salad

French Potato Salad

*Pro tip: I keep little glass jars around the house for all kinds of shit. Every time I’ve used up a jar of olives, mustard, or whatever, I throw it in the dishwasher and add it to the collection. They are fantastic for cleaning your skate bearings (when friends stop by for a bearing cleaning party, I can send them home with a little jar or dirty turpentine!) and they are great for when you make your own dressings and marinades. Just throw your ingredients all into the jar, seal the lid tight, and shake like crazy… Preferably over the sink, just in case that lid got loose on you! It’s much fast than that whole ‘drizzle the oil slowly and whisk till your arm falls off’ method, and when you’re done you can throw it in the fridge, the cooler, your lunchbox, wherever… And it’s less mess.

Makin' dressing...

Makin’ dressing…