When I was around 4 years old, my parents moved us to Paris. We weren’t there long, but if I’m connecting the dots, Steve Jobs-style, I would be remiss to discount the experience as anything less than an essential stepping stone in my food journey. I forgot the language quickly upon my return. But the smells stuck with me, and still do to this day – the roasting chestnuts, caramelizing sugar on the crepe griddle, and the bread. Oh, the bread.
But for all the sense memories, I rarely cook French food in my kitchen. It just feels too fussy, too pretentious. Hold the beurre blanc and just give me a wedge of lemon for my sole. However, there are two recipes that I’ve been wanting to highlight on this site for their ease and satisfaction. And today we’re killing both of those culinary birds with one stone (one, quite literally).
Chicken paillard is thinly pounded chicken breasts that are then grilled. There are plenty of variations, but the central concept is fairly simple. Salad nicoise is one of my favorite main course salads. You’d think, given that I’m gluten-free and can’t have sandwiches on the majority of menus, that I’d eat more salads than I do. But it takes a special kind of salad to get my attention. So when Food Network gave us “salads with lettuce” this week as our theme, my mind went straight to Nicoise. And because the idea of eating just salad for lunch made my stomach want to eat itself, I immediately thought of combining the salad in some way with chicken paillard.Instead of the neat quadrants of potatoes, tomatoes, haricot vert, olives, and egg in a normal nicoise, I’ve chopped everything together and used it as a topper for the thin, flat bed of chicken below. And as fate would have it, this is the kind of light, elegant lunch that you would serve to your mother on Mother’s Day, especially if she is as big of a Francophile as mine.
Grilled Chicken Paillard with Chopped Salad Nicoise
- 4 chicken breasts butterflied and pounded 1/3 inch thin
- Olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon divided
- Sea salt
- ½ pound French green beans
- ½ pound baby potatoes
- 2 medium tomatoes diced
- ¼ cup pitted nicoise or kalamata olives finely chopped
- 2 hard boiled eggs optional, finely chopped
- 5 ounces herb or mesculin salad mix
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon honey
Heat an indoor or charcoal grill to high heat.
Place the chicken in a large shallow bowl or baking dish. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, half the lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon salt. Swish and flip the chicken around until well coated in the oil and lemon mixture.
Grill the chicken in batches, rotating 90 degrees on each side halfway through cooking, until the chicken is cooked through and have a nice cross-hatch, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the string beans until al dente, about 2 minutes. Remove with tongs to a colander and rinse with cold water.
Return the pot of water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, Dijon, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk in ¼ cup of olive oil, beginning with just a scant tablespoon until fully incorporated, then slowly adding the rest. Taste the vinaigrette and add more oil or seasoning as necessary.
Finely chop the beans, potatoes, and salad greens into ¼ inch pieces and add to the vinaigrette along with the tomatoes, olives, and egg, if using. Toss to combine and taste for seasoning.
To serve, arrange one piece of chicken on each plate and divide the salad among them.