Tony writes: The first September morning that temps drop into the 40’s, I kinda lose my mind; as much as a person who has spent 38 winters in New England really should. I shorten the am dog-walking route, layer early and often (sweats, turtlenecks, whatever), and quickly evolve the way I think about dinner. This salad was my initial reaction to the season’s first cold spell: a pairing of roasted root vegetables – beets, potatoes, and members of the alium family-, lightly dressed greens, seared chicken breasts, and a maple vinaigrette. The method is ridiculously easy but produces a meal that’s warming and vaguely fancy. Here’s how:
– Treat chicken like duck: Searing duck breasts is one of those techniques you pick up quickly in the kinds of fancy shmancy restaurants where I worked in my 20’s. The process is simple: sear the breast skin side down so the skin browns and becomes crisp. Then flip and cook until just done; medium-rare for duck. Chicken and duck may be different animals — duck is a whole lot fattier and richer –, but the skin in this method keeps the breast meat from drying out and adds flavor and texture. And if you brush the chicken breast with a little maple syrup after the initial sear (and before a brief roast in the oven), it will feel almost as fancy as duck and make for the perfect accompaniment to a fall salad .
The Recipe; Serves 4
1. Prep and roast the veg: Heat the oven to 425F. Scrub and rinse 1 sweet potato (about 8 oz.) and 2 beets (about 8 oz.) and cut each in 1/4-inch half moons. Peel 3 small carrots (about 8 oz.) and quarter lengthwise. Peel and slice 1 shallot into thin disks. Add the vegetables to a rimmed baking sheet (lined with foil if you like), sprinkle with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper and gently toss. Roast the vegetables, flipping after 8 min, until they brown and become tender, about 12 min.
2. Meanwhile, prep the chicken: Debone 4 split chicken breasts (about 3 lb.); (this how-to video is helpful); . Rinse the deboned breasts with cold water and then pat dry well with paper towel. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme and 1 tsp. kosher salt and 3/4 tsp. black pepper. Drizzle with 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and rub all over the breasts.
3. Sear-roast the chicken: Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (or heavy-based pan) over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Set the chicken in the pan skin-side-down and evenly spaced and cook, undisturbed, until the skin browns around the edges and easily releases when you lift a corner, 3 to 4 min. Flip the chicken, brush the skin with 1/4 cup maple syrup and transfer the pan to the 425F oven. Roast until the chicken just cooks through (165F on an instant-read thermometer), about 5 min. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to cool.
4. Make the vinaigrette and assemble the salad: In a small bowl, whisk 2 tsp. whole-grain mustard with 3 Tbs. cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. maple syrup and 1/2 tsp. each S+P. While still whisking, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil so the mixture comes together in a uniform (emulsified) mixture. Add 5 oz baby arugula (or baby spinach) and 1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano to a large bowl and toss with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange the roasted vegetables on 4 dinner plates. Top with the dressed arugula. Thinly slice the chicken and set atop the greens. Serve, drizzled with the remaining vinaigrette.