miso salmon

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People. This is a friendly reminder that Mercury is in retrograde until the end of the month. This is why I haven’t been able to string more than two thoughts together in a coherent manner for weeks. This is why I referred to Whitney Houston’s voice as crystal glass on the way to Tahoe two weekends ago. This is why you might be feeling crazy right now. I know I’ve mentioned Mercury retrograde here in the past. But these are serious times. Anyway, don’t go signing any contracts until it’s over. And get out your crystals. Godspeed.

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Now, let’s talk salmon. I realized recently, while having dinner with a friend, that I almost never order salmon at restaurants. One of the few exceptions is salmon nigiri and sashimi, which I love. It’s not that I don’t like salmon, I just tend to think of it as something that can easily be prepared at home, which I do fairly often. 

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I discovered this gem while searching for new salmon recipes a few years back and have been making it on the reg ever since. It’s one of my go-tos. This is what I commonly refer to as real-life cooking. Unlike the cakes and cookies and other decadent goodies you can expect from us here, this is the type of dish you’ll find yourself making again and again, for dinner, for lunch, for yourself, for family and friends, any night of the week.

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This is a foolproof recipe. I love it because it’s easy enough to throw together after a long day of work, and requires just a handful of ingredients. And since it’s broiled, it cooks in a heartbeat. Aside from the simplicity factor, it’s a winner on many levels. The miso keeps the salmon moist and packs a ton of flavor. It’s rich in omega-3s, which is so much more enjoyable than popping those capsules. And it actually keeps well, which means you have lunch for tomorrow. I like it on top of a bed of romaine or greens, with a couple of slices of persian cucumber and avocado, a splash of tamari or Bragg’s, and a squeeze of lemon.

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miso salmon

from Eating Well

serves 4

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sweet white miso paste

2 tablespoons mirin, (Japanese rice wine)

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce, or tamari 

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

A few drops hot pepper sauce

1 -1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions

2 – 4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

2 – 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Position oven rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper. If using foil, coat lightly with cooking spray.

Toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk miso, mirin, soy sauce (or tamari), ginger and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth.

Place salmon fillets, skin-side down, in the prepared pan. Brush generously with the miso mixture. Broil salmon, 3 to 4 inches from the heat source, until opaque in the center, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer the salmon to warmed plates and garnish with the reserved sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro.

roasted wild mushrooms with creamy polenta

Something is happening over here. I’m not sure what it means, but lately I’ve been really into simple meals. Meals you can throw together in less than an hour. Meals you can enjoy after a long day at work. Meals that don’t require a stand mixer or food processor or immersion blender. People ask me all the time if I have any easier recipes. I think I’m finally catching on.

This dish was inspired by a meal I had with Lee a few weeks ago. It involved a mushroom ragout and polenta, kale and a poached egg. I enjoyed it so much that I cleaned my plate and haven’t stopped thinking about it.

I tried one other recipe before finding this one for oven-roasted mushrooms. The mushrooms cook quickly at a high temperature and only need one or two stirs while they roast away. They are totally delicious and perfect on their own but this ultra creamy polenta really is an ideal accompaniment. You could stop there, but if you want something a little more substantial, a poached egg and a little bit of sauteed kale will definitely round things out for you. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

roasted wild mushrooms with creamy polenta

adapted from nordstrom.com and food&wine

serves 4-6

for the mushrooms:

kosher salt

fresh cracked black pepper

1 pound wild mushrooms, stems trimmed (I used a combination of oyster, sliced shiitake, yellow foot, and hedgehog mushrooms)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large roasting pan, combine all of the mushrooms. Add the garlic, shallots, and thyme. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer as evenly as possible to promote even cooking.

Roast, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the mushrooms are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl.

Taste the mushrooms and season as needed with salt and pepper. the mushrooms with the remaining salt and pepper mixture, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the parsley.

for the polenta:

2 cups whole milk

2 cups water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup instant polenta (about 7 ounces)

1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream**

1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Salt and freshly ground pepper

**for a lighter, slightly less creamy polenta, add only 1/4 cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, water/stock, salt, and butter and bring to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 8 minutes. If your polenta seems too thick, add 1/4 cup water and continue to stir until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, mascarpone, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

to serve:

Spoon the polenta onto plates, top with roasted mushrooms and sprinkle with additional Parmesan and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

harissa ravioli

I can’t remember the last time I ate broccoli. When I was a teenager, I developed a broccoli allergy and have since stayed far, far away. It actually used to be one of my favorite veggies, but my body says no. I don’t break out in hives or anything, I just feel like I want to die after I eat it, so much so that I avoid anything that resembles broccoli, including broccolini and broccoli rabe.

When I saw Heidi’s recipe for harissa ravioli with brocolli, I began to think twice about my ways. I love harissa. Harissa is a chili paste used commonly in North African cuisine and any excuse to use it is a good one. I wouldn’t dare eat broccoli, but I thought maybe I could handle a little broccolini or broccoli rabe. Why not live a bit dangerously?

I survived the broccolini. As a matter of fact I loved it. I’m not sure what came over me, but I was feeling pretty bold and decided to cook some broccoli rabe. Oh, dear. What a mistake. I was laid up on the couch, dying for almost four hours. After drinking two glasses of 7-up and even resorting to Pepto, I made an executive decision and puked my brains out (sorry, tmi). If you ask me, no vegetable is worth that kind of drama.

But I’m glad I got all of that settled. Broccoli and broccoli rabe remain on the Do Not Eat list. But luckily for me, the broccolini gates have opened and I can throw it in this great pasta dish. The ravioli is really just a blank canvas for all of the layers of flavor here – spicy, lemony harissa oil, salty black olives, crunchy pepitas, tangy feta with really nice texture from toasted pepitas and broccolini. It’s a nice way to incorporate veggies into a meal, and the whole thing comes together in a snap. It’s an ideal weeknight meal.

harissa ravioli

from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

serves 4

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons harissa

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces fresh or frozen cheese-stuffed ravioli or tortellini

8 ounces broccoli florets or broccolini, trimmed into bite-size pieces 

1/4 cup pepitas, toasted

scant 1/4 cup crumbled feta

5 or 6 black oil-cured olives, pitted and torn into pieces

Bring a large pot of water to boil. In the meantime, sprinkle the smashed garlic with the sea salt and shop into a paste. Transfer it to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil. Taste and add more salt if needed. Set aside.

When the water boils, salt it generously, add the ravioli, and boil until they are cooked through, about 1-2 minutes (they will float to the top). About 30 seconds before the ravioli have finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pot, boil for the remaining time, then drain.

Transfer the ravioli and broccoli to a large mixing bowl. Toss with a couple spoonfuls of harrissa oil and most of the pepitas.  Taste and add salt if needed. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with more harissa oil, the remaining pepitas, the feta, and olives.

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and dungeness crab

At about this time last year, one of my favorite restaurants was serving a pasta dish with Dungeness crab and sea urchin. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to having dinner there, it was no longer on the menu. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

For starters, I pretty much love anything that comes from the sea. But Dungeness crab and sea urchin, otherwise known as uni, are at the top of my list. So when I imagined the two together, it just blew my mind a little bit.

If you have never tasted uni, I must say it is definitely not for everyone. It has a custard-like texture and a sort of buttery, salty flavor. It is commonly served in Japanese restaurants, sashimi style, the only way I had ever had it. Which made the idea of a warm uni dish that much more enticing to me.

I waited an entire year with the hope that this dish would reappear on the menu. But I either missed it again or it just never happened. So I decided that I would have to make it myself. When I spotted a recipe for spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab while flipping through the pages of The Young Man and the Sea, I knew the stars were aligning. In the end I used a different recipe, but it was a good place to start. And then I planned a field trip to Tokyo Fish Market, my new favorite store.

This pasta is nothing shy of perfection. The sauce is silky and rich without being overwhelming. And the sweetness of the crab is the perfect compliment to the brininess of the uni, which is fantastic warm. The combination was even more incredible than I had imagined; all of the flavors and textures work beautifully together. I feel like I need to toot my horn a little bit because even my toughest critic fell in love with this dish (it really is that good!). I might be somewhat biased since I love me my seafood, but… toot-toot!

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab

adapted from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

serves 4

1 pound dried chitarra or spaghetti

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced thin

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into small dice

2 ounces dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

8 ounces sea urchin (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat, about 1 whole crab*, or jumbo lump crabmeat

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 lemon, zested and reserved for juice

1 pinch crushed chili flakes

sea salt

chives (for garnish)


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite,  7-9 minutes.

Reserve 4-5 pieces of sea urchin for garnish and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil followed by the garlic. Sweat garlic lightly, then add leeks. Cook on low to medium heat until tender, then add wine.

Add chicken stock immediately after the wine and reduce slightly. Add sea urchin and break it up slightly. Add crab at the very end when sauce is off the heat.

Add cooked pasta to sauce with a touch of the pasta cooking water. Add butter and emulsify slowly into the sauce.

Finish with lemon juice, lemon zest, chili flakes and sea salt.

Divide pasta amongst the bowls. Top each bowl with a piece of sea urchin and sprinkle with chives.

*You can usually buy a whole cooked crab at the market, but it’s less expensive (and often more tasty) to buy a live crab and steam it yourself at home.

To steam your crab:

Fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches of water, just below where the rack will sit (if you don’t have a steaming rack, you can use a bowl placed upside down at the bottom of the pot). Add 6 ounces of beer to the water (optional) and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place the crab inside the pot and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the crab and let cool until cool enough to handle.

Click here for tips on cracking and cleaning your crab.

spring risotto

Not to pour salt in the wounds of those who live in parts of the world that are not full of sunshine and Spring, but the weather in the Bay Area has been extra sparkly and glorious the past two weekends. And great activities have resulted, including a handful of day trips to the North Bay and a fruitful morning at the farmers market.

I was just telling a friend at work that I had not been up to wine country in FOREVER. And within a matter of days I got a call from Adrian and Dan asking if I wanted to join them for a day of antiquing and lunch at Bouchon. Twist my arm! Needless to say, it was a perfect day. While doing a little shopping on our way to Yountville, I fell halfway in love with an old table I spotted at Artifact Design Salvage. After a few days of obsessing and measuring and obsessing, I decided I had to have the table. So I went back to Sonoma the following weekend, only to discover that TomatoMania! was in full effect, which was the best surprise ever, especially since I’ve got all my little baby seeds sprouting right now. I happily brought home a Genovese seedling and two ginormous peat pots, along with the table, aka my new office.

I headed up North once again this past Saturday to do a little scouting for an event I’m helping plan this summer. This particular area, between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, is the land of farm-grown, homemade, antique stores galore. There were a whole lot of “cute” and “quaint” sightings that afternoon, which left me completely smitten. One day I’ll convince myself to give up city life and grow old in the country. In the meantime, I’ll settle for a weekend home or even a friend out thataway.

Before making my way up to the land of cute and quaint on Saturday, I had to stop by the farmers market. Let me just say, for the record, that everyone (and their dogs and their babies) was at the farmers market that morning. And understandably so. Who could resist all of the springtime bounty that overfloweth in these parts? Certainly not I. Somehow, I managed to get in and out of there in a record twenty-five minutes, bags filled with the goods: three pints of strawberries, green garlic, kale, three pounds of fava beans, a few pounds of English peas and a custard currant danish for the road.

The peas and favas made their way into the Spring Risotto that I had bookmarked in the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. As I mentioned a few months ago, I love this book, and couldn’t help but go back to it. I made a few small changes, like substituting asparagus for corn kernels and adding a little lemon juice and zest to give it a bit of a brighter flavor, but ultimately loved the combination of the creamy risotto and the fresh produce. Oh Spring, how I’ve missed you!

spring risotto

adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

serves 4

kosher salt

1-1/4 cups shelled English peas

1-1/4 cup s shelled fava beans

1 cup asparagus, spears trimmed and cut into thirds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

3-1/2 cups chicken stock, warmed

2 whole scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 ounces Parmesan, grated ( about 1/4 cup), plus extra for serving

1 lemon, zest grated and juiced

2 cups rich beef broth

rich beef broth

1 quart beef broth

1/2 onion

1/2 carrot

1/2 celery stalk

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 garlic clove

1 bay leaf

1 flat leaf parsley stem

kosher salt and black pepper

prepare the beef broth:

Combine all the ingredients except the salt and pepper in  a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 40 minutes.

Strain, put the liquid back into the saucepan, and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper.

for the risotto:

Fill a medium bowl halfway with water and ice cubes. Set it aside.

In a small saucepan, warm the chicken stock and keep on low heat until ready to use.

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon salt , and blanch the peas in the boiling water until they’re bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately strain out the peas (reserving the hot water for the other vegetables) and place them in the ice water. Let them cool for 2 minutes. Reserve the peas and repeat the same process with the fava beans (3 minutes in the boiling water) and the asparagus (3 minutes in the boiling water).  Place in ice water. Remove the favas from water after 3 minutes and remove the skins. Place skinned beans in a bowl and set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and add the onions. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, and sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice, and stir to coat with the butter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to “sear” the grain – this step will ensure that the risotto will have a bite to it. Deglaze the pan with the wine, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add the warm chicken stock, one 1/2 cup at a time. Stir continuously until the rice has absorbed the liquid, then add more stock. Continue this process for about 15 minutes, until 3 cups of the stock have been added and the risotto is tender. If necessary, continue cooking, adding the remaining chicken stock if the risotto starts to dry out. The risotto is ready when it’s al dente, with a thick and creamy consistency.

Stir in the blanched peas, fava beans, and asparagus, along with the scallions, Parmesan, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, lemon juice and zest. Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Place the risotto in individual bowls, ladle the beef broth around it, top with additional Parmesan, and serve.

Evidence from the land of quaint, cute and antique stores galore: a French wire ferris wheel egg server from the late 1800’s. Now at the very top of my list of “things I really, really want but absolutely do not need”. Out of control whimsy… je t’aime!

the zuni roast chicken with bread salad

The perfect roast chicken is hard to come by. I’ve tried many over the years, in restaurants and at home, and while some of them were pretty good, there was never a roast chicken that I considered to die for. All of that changed, of course, the first time I had the Zuni Roast Chicken.

Whenever I meet up with my very dear friend Lee, who just so happens to live steps away from Zuni Cafe, there is always the temptation to sneak downstairs for a bite to eat.  Because the most perfect roast chicken on the planet lives there. The Zuni roast chicken with bread salad is somewhat of an icon. It is a permanent fixture on a menu that changes daily. It’s the dish you recommend to friends who are visiting from out of town or going to Zuni for the first time. It tops the list of 100 Things to Try Before You Die compiled by San Francisco’s 7×7 magazine. People who have had it are a little crazy about it and love to talk about it. All of this is completely warranted.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, what is so special about this chicken? Let me indulge you. It’s a whole bird, perfectly browned and crisp, carved and served on a bed of this insanely delicious bread salad with red mustard greens. Every piece of chicken is incredibly moist and flavorful. And the bread salad alone is simply divine; it’s the perfect combination of crispy and chewy, scattered with pine nuts and currants, and lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette and drippings from the chicken. It is the perfect meal. If you go to Zuni with the intention of having the chicken, it’s recommended that you let your waiter know as soon as you sit down since it takes about an hour for the bird to roast (while you’re waiting, have a martini, the Caesar salad and some oysters on the half shell).

I’d been wanting to try my hand at making the chicken at home ever since I found out that the recipe is in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. At first sight, it’s intimidating, and long and appears to be a bit laborious. In actuality, laborious is not the word. The chicken itself is surprisingly quite easy to make. BUT, it requires preparing and salting the bird for at least a day or two prior to roasting, which might deter someone who isn’t used to planning meals that far in advance.

After having drinks at Lee’s last week and passing up the opportunity to have the chicken downstairs, I decided it was finally my time to give it a go. I found my tiny 2.97 pound chicken from Soul Food Farm and started salting. And waiting. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive. How could I possibly replicate that perfect chicken from the restaurant? But when this gorgeous bird came out of my oven, all of my doubts melted away. As it turns out, when you follow the recipe, step by step, word for word, anything is possible.  The success I had really is a testament to how well this cookbook is written. As my sister and I cleaned our plates of chicken and bread salad on Easter morning, I felt extremely satisfied and victorious.

zuni roast chicken with bread salad

from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

serves 2 to 4

for the chicken:

one small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 lbs. Don’t substitute a jumbo roaster – it will be too lean and wont tolerate the high heat

4 tenders sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long

Salt

about 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

A little water

Seasoning the chicken  (1-3 days before serving; at least 2 days for 3-1/4 to 3-1/2 pound chicken) :

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough or the chicken will not brown properly.

Slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Use the tip of your finger to loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper (use 3/4 teaspoon sea salt per pound of chicken).  Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t worry otherwise about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Roasting the chicken:

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof pan or dish barely larger than the chicken. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry and place breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until is does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over (drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking). Roast for another 10-20 minutes depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of chicken, the tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. Set the chicken in a warm spot (which may be your stovetop), and leave to rest. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

for the bread salad:

8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant style bread (not sourdough)

6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil

1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon dried currants

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon warm water

2 tablespoons pine nut, toasted

2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered

1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part

2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water

a few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

Preparing the bread salad (up to several hours in advance):

Preheat the broiler. Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.

Place a spoonful of olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plump currants and fold in. Add the toasted pine nuts. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread – a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar and toss well.

Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, about 10 minutes.

With the drippings from the chicken:

Place the roasting pan over medium-low heat, add any juices that have collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings.

Transfer the bread salad back into the salad bowl. (It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones.) Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.

To serve:

Set a platter in the hot oven for a minute or two.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter, and nestle the chicken in the salad.