Chicken Salad Veronique

Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts.  I’ll follow along with an episode of the Barefoot Contessa and choose a recipe to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Flavors and Flowers”

The Set-up: Bridgehampton Florist is celebrating 20 years in business and somehow they managed to get Ina Garten to cater the party….

The Menu: Pepper & Gorgonzola Bruschetta, Chicken Salad Veronique, Herb Potato Salad, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

  Chicken Salad Veronique  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken Salad Veronique | Image: Laura Messersmith

0:49 – Ina kicks off the episode with Chicken Salad Veronique – “like chicken salad, but elevated to party food” because it involves fresh herbs and grapes.

1:17 – If I were developing a Barefoot Contessa drinking game (we’d sip kir royales, obviously) I’d have to nominate “roast with salt, pepper and olive oil”  to the list of occasions to DRINK! But, I digress…

2:04 – On to the sauce! Chicken Salad Veronique involves a tarragon sauce. Ina feels that it’s an under-used herb (must have a weak lobbyist in Congress)  and I tend to agree. More tarragon!

3:58 – The chicken salad is done and we get a quick peek at Michael finishing up for the day at Bridgehampton Florist. Let the party prep begin!

5:01 – Back at Ina’s to make Herb Potato Salad with a French-style vinaigrette dressing, rather than “drenched mayonnaise.” I’m with Ina on this one – not so much a fan of mayo, but in Austria we had something like the dish she’s describing and it was delicious. Color me intrigued.

5:34 – Through a veil of steam Ina gives us Pro Tip #1: for perfectly cooked potatoes cover the colander with a kitchen towel after draining and allow the steam to absorb into the potatoes for a few minutes.

6:01 – Next, Ina whisks up the vinaigrette – lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and olive oil. I don’t know why I so rarely make my own dressing – it really is pretty simple.

9:14 – Here’s an interesting step and Pro Tip #2: a warm potato (or piece of chicken) will absorb the flavors of a sauce better than a cold one. So, while the sliced potatoes are still warm, and before adding the vinaigrette, Ina tosses them with a few tablespoons of white wine and chicken stock. Brilliant.

10:03 –I see that the Tarragon Lobby has gotten to Ina. Once again it’s featured in the Herb Potato Salad - which Ina characterizes as a “subtle herb.” You know, for the discerning palate.

11:16 – Over to Bridgehampton Florist again and Ina was right: the floral arrangement does feature orange tulips! Michael is so fabulous and appears to have matched his outfit to the flowers – he’s sporting a vibrant tangerine mini-check button down.

11:44 – Next, a surprise: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake from Michael’s grandmother’s recipe. I would like everyone reading to know that you are welcome to surprise me with chocolate cake any time – any time at all!

12:06 – Hahahahahaha. I love Ina’s expression as the cocoa powder she’s sifting rises up in a cloud. All: “How ridiculous is it that I’m talking to you through a chocolate haze?”

13:51 – Oooh, a secret ingredient: hot brewed coffee. We already know that coffee and vanilla are two of Ina’s favorite chocolate-boosting ingredients, but why hot coffee?

14:14 – I did some Googling and found several potential reasons for the coffee to be hot: activation of baking soda for a lighter cake crumb, releasing more chocolate flavor (heat + ingredient = heighted aroma), and keeping thick ingredients (butter, oils, molasses, etc.) thinner and more easily mixed. In this case I’m guessing either #1 or #2 is the reason.

18:11 – Beatty’s Chocolate Cake is out of the oven, so it’s time for butter cream frosting. You can tell this is an old fashioned cake, because Beatty is not shy about the butter use – 2 sticks for frosting alone!

19:17 – Pro Tip #3: to turn a cake out of a pan easily – butter the sides and line the bottom with parchment paper (NOT waxed paper) – then when the cake is baked, run a knife around the edge of the pan and rap the bottom on a hard surface.

20:21 – OMG, that frosting looks so good. I would love to be in the kitchen with Ina for a multitude of reasons, but right now it would be to lick the bowl. #truefacts

21:42 – We get a little Frosting Application 101 and I’m willing to bet it’s harder than she makes it look. I can’t recall ever making a layer cake, but I think it’s a baking hurdle I’ll have to attempt sooner or later…

22:37 – A glimpse of Michael’s finishing touches (the orange tulips are joined by hot pink roses) and then it’s back to Ina’s for a little Pepper and Gorgonzola Bruschetta

27:23 – I’ve made something similar to this recipe, but instead of sautéing my own peppers I totally cheated and used roasted red peppers out of a jar…

28:32 – Okay, so Ina’s bruschetta look way better – hers have capers and she melted the gorgonzola. I have so much to learn!

29:04 – Over to Bridgehampton Florist for the party where all the assembled guests are enjoying the champagne and bruschetta.

29:59 – We close out with a toast from Ina “to 20 years of flowers and chocolate cake, and orange tulips!”

Final Thoughts:

I’m excited to try the Herbed Potato Salad - if it’s anything like the version we had in Vienna I’m in trouble!

If I’ve learned anything from this show and Pinterest it’s that I need to add layer cakes to my baking repertoire.

A flower shop seems like a really cool place to have a party – talk about a beautiful setting!

  Chicken Salad Veronique  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken Salad Veronique | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

I actually have made Chicken Salad Veronique before on a number of occasions, the most memorable of which was the first meal I ever cooked for Mike. That’s how good this recipe is – you can trust it with an early dating relationship – and it’s virtually no stress to make.

Ina recommends roasting the chicken, which really does improve the flavor quite a bit, but if you had some boneless skinless chicken breasts you wanted to use poaching them in chicken broth works well and gives more flavor than just plain water. The recipe calls for green grapes, but I think they’re a little tart, so I switched to red grapes, which I think are a little sweeter. This recipe is also great to size up for more people, or divide in half if it’s just for two, although who doesn’t want a few leftovers when it’s something delicious like Chicken Salad Veronique?

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Definitely. I used one sheet pan to roast the chicken, one medium sized plastic cutting board (produce first, then chicken), and a large bowl for mixing the salad. Those four items, plus a chef’s knife and a few basic kitchen tools like measuring cups and spoons and a large mixing spoon, are all you need.

The Verdict:

Chicken Salad Veronique feels more special than standard chicken salad when you have guests, but is definitely easy enough for “everyday.” We had some friends coming for lunch over the weekend, and in accordance with Ina’s Rules for Entertaining; it’s a dish can easily be made in advance. (I did mine the night before so it was nice and cool the next afternoon.) It’s fresh and summery - perfect in a sandwich or over salad greens. Seconds were had by all and Chicken Salad Veronique retains its place on the go-to list.

  Chicken Salad Veronique  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken Salad Veronique | Image: Laura Messersmith