Farmer’s Market Grilled Chicken Salad with Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette – the secrets to grilling moist, juicy chicken breasts to top a fabulous fresh summer salad with a sweet and spicy dressing!
I’m loving going to the market these days, and I’m dazzled by the delightful rainbow of fresh color that greets me each time I approach the produce department. Although the pickings are still a bit slim from local North Carolina gardens, it’s improving everyday. But there’s also lots of good stuff being harvested a few states south of us. I must say, I’m thrilled to reap the benefits of those Georgia and Florida farmers whose summer is just a step ahead of ours.
My treasures this week were a box of multi-hued mini tomatoes, large, ripe avocados, fresh corn and tender, baby arugula. We really enjoy eating light and lean in the summer and a plan for a delicious salad was developing…
I love salads featuring grilled chicken in the summer, and after trying different techniques, I’ve come up with a way to insure delicious super tender chicken breasts. I know, I know, those in the “know” say that the thighs are much moister and flavorful, but you know what? Everyone around here just really enjoys white meat, so I go with the gang.
A stint in a sweet and salty herb-infused brine, along with flattening the breasts slightly to create an even thickness are two of my secret weapons in the battle against dry, tasteless chicken. Probably the most important trick though, comes in a small package; my instant read meat thermometer.
Checking the meat several times towards the end of the grilling process insures perfectly cooked, juicy results. The final step? A 5 minute rest before slicing and serving the fragrant, delicious chicken. This little step allows the chicken to relax and re-absorb some of the juices, so when you slice it, the juice doesn’t pour out onto the cutting board.
I decided to switch up one of my favorite dressings and use pepper jelly in lieu of honey. I minced a clove of garlic, added a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice and a combination of olive and sunflower oil (or other neutral flavored oil) for flavor and lightness. We loved the sweet and spicy flavor, and the overall unique pizzaz it gives to this wonderful summer salad.
So take the time to linger a bit in the produce section while shopping this week and savor all the vibrant, seasonal fruits and veggies. Pick up some lean, boneless chicken breasts while you’re there; and when you get home, fire up the grill. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how moist, juicy and amazingly delicious your chicken will be. And when you take the first bite of this fresh, fabulous salad… well, let’s just say it might put you into summer nirvana!
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- For the chicken:
- 6 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 ½ quarts water
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 6 3-4 inch sprigs fresh thyme sprigs
- 3 3-4 inch sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- For the dressing:
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup pepper jelly
- 1 medium clove garlic
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup sunflower oil (or other mild tasting oil)
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the salad:
- 1 5-ounce bag baby arugula
- 2 cups halved or quartered mini tomatoes, I like to use assorted sizes
- 2 medium avocado, cored and peeled then quartered and sliced
- 3 ears fresh corn
- sliced grilled chicken breasts, see instructions above
- About 3-4 hours before grilling, combine water, salt, sugar, herbs and pepper flakes in a medium-size sauce pan. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature, about an hour.
- When brine is cool, prepare chicken by placing breasts, one at a time in a large zippered bag. With a meat pounder, a rolling pin or a heavy bottomed pot, pound chicken just enough to create an even thickness. You don't want them too thin or they will dry out on the grill.
- Add chicken breasts to cooled brine and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Drain breasts, discarding brine. Pat chicken dry and place on a tray or platter. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper.
- Prepare gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Brush grill grates to clean and oil lightly.
- Place chicken on grill and close lid. When first side has nice grill marks (about 3-4 minutes), turn to the opposite side with tongs. Grill for another 3-4 minutes. Begin checking internal temperature with an instant thermometer* after 3 minutes of grilling on the second side. When the internal temperature reaches 150˚F remove chicken to a clean platter and tent with foil. (If you have pieces of chicken with varying sizes, you may need to take some off the grill sooner than others.)
- Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes then slice and proceed with salad.
- For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a medium-size jar and shake, shake, shake, until well combined. Set aside. (Dressing can be made several days in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
- For the salad, place unhusked corn on a cutting board and cut about 2-3 inches from the bottom end of each ear of corn. Place all three ears in the microwave. Microwave on high for 12 minutes. Remove corn from microwave. With an oven mitt or hot pad hold corn by the silk end and push corn out of husk/silk. It will come out perfectly cooked, clean and free of any silk. (Check out a great video demonstrating this technique here.)
- With corn laying flat on cutting board, slice off kernels.
- Divide arugula between 6 large bowls or salad plates. Top with sliced, grilled chicken. Scatter tomatoes, avocados and corn around chicken. Drizzle with dressing. Pass extra dressing at the table.