Time and again viewers of my show e-mail me wondering, “How do I cook white meat chicken so that it doesn’t get tough?” The answer appears to be simple. Don’t overcook it. In fact, that is easier said than done these days. The threat of salmonella requires that you cook your chicken until it is well done. However, there is a brief moment, just before it dries out, when chicken is cooked perfectly. If you poach your chicken breasts according to the method in this recipe, you will capture that moment every time. And if you poach them in chicken broth rather than water you will also intensify the flavor of the cooking liquid. You can then recycle this liquid for soup or a sauce or throw it into the freezer for another day, Use a blender to make the sauce for this recipe. It will pulverize the fresh basil and get all the flavor out of it.
1 quart homemade chicken stock or canned broth
2 large whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1 1/2 pounds
16 to 20 cherry tomatoes, about 2 cups, halved or quartered
Kosher salt to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 slices bacon, about 6 ounces
2 bunches fresh arugula, stems removed, rinsed and spun dry or 4 cups mesclun
1/4 cup Vinaigrette, recipe follows
Bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat, add the chicken, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Check for doneness. Simmer for 2 minutes longer if the chicken appears to be undercooked. Transfer to a plate or platter and cool to room temperature. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve for another use.
Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pile into a colander. Set the colander in a large bowl or the sink and allow the tomatoes to drain for at least 15 minutes.
Combine the mayonnaise and the basil in a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon warm water and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Arrange the bacon in one layer on a rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, turning once, until browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Cool completely and crumble into small pieces.
Combine the chicken, tomatoes, basil mayonnaise, and bacon in a large bowl. Stir well to mix and season with salt and pepper. Toss the arugula with the vinaigrette and divide among 4 chilled serving plates. Mound each with a large spoonful of the chicken salad.
Vinaigrette: Combine 1/4 cup white wine, red wine, or sherry vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt in a 1 cup glass measuring cup and whisk with a fork until the salt is dissolved. Slowly add 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a stream, whisking. Keeps 1 week at room temperature or a month in the fridge. Makes 1 cup.