You people (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) seem to like it when I make mistakes and confess. You may, therefore, enjoy this post even more than my “kitchen messes;” this is a story in which I cook something not-very-good, and someone else fixes it and makes it pretty damned good. You would have to know me personally to know how deeply it galls me to reveal that such a thing is even possible, but I offer this in the interest of full disclosure and the scientific method.
I was making chicken salad, which I do fairly often at this time of year, and which I generally do with a reasonable amount of flair and panache. This recipe is so near and dear to me, in fact, that I wrote about it in the first post on this blog. It is the summer soul food of upper middle class white women such as myself, and we take it very seriously. On this particular occasion, I was planning to use toasted pecans, dried Michigan cherries and a discreet amount of celery in addition to the basic chicken and mayonnaise.
The first problem was in the poaching. As I wrote in the original chicken salad post, I do my chicken poaching in the slow cooker most of the time, which allows it to cook slowly without my full attention, and to emerge tender and subtly flavored with onions, carrots, celery and any herbs I choose to throw in. The crucial phrase in the last sentence, however, is “full attention.” The chicken does require at least some attention, and I have now learned that 10 hours on even the lowest setting results in chicken that is the approximate consistency of moist sawdust, albeit it flavorful and moist sawdust. I could see, as I began to cut the “poached” breasts into cubes that they were edible, but would fall apart easily and probably require more than the usual amount of mayonnaise. The good news, if any, was that the chicken would not actually cause anyone to have splinters in their gums.
I then discovered that there was not really enough mayonnaise left for chicken in the “normal” range on the moistness scale, let alone the pre-sawdust range. I do not voluntarily consume mayonnaise, but I do use it in both chicken and egg salads as a matter of orthodoxy. Usually, unless there has been a bizarre spate of sandwich making, I am aware of exactly how much mayonnaise is in the jar, and know with calm smugness that I have or do not have “enough” on any given occasion. I have, however, been visited by a person who regularly spreads mayonnaise on bread (although only on good bread) and eats it as if it were bread and butter. Because this practice horrifies me, and I tend to avoid all visuaI evidence that it takes place, I had clearly missed the critical depletion of the mayonnaise supply.
Mr. Annie suggested that I add blue cheese dressing, and I gave it serious thought before proceeding. I could imagine the blue cheese with the pecans and the cherries (did I mention that I had no celery?) but I wasn’t sure about it with the chicken. Tired and hungry, I poured in all the remaining blue cheese dressing with reckless abandon. The salad was still dry. Our dinner guest (coincidentally, the consumer of my mayonnaise supply), suggested adding some olive oil to moisten the salad. Having already jumped the shark, culinarily speaking, I tried it. It was edible, but not good.
Our mayonnaise eating guest (aka The Friend I Can Cook With) asked if he could “play” with the remaining salad and see what he could do. Alarms went off. Hackles raised. This was not someone cooking in my kitchen with me, following my lead or at least working in consultation with me. This was someone “fixing” my cooking, something that has not been required since I was in high school and failed to add the water to the frozen peas. It was also A Guest, and I was instructed to relax and watch TV while he rummaged through cabinets and the refrigerator, trying to spin gold out of straw. I poured a glass of Pinot Grigio, calculated our co-pay for therapy, and agreed.
When the salad reappeared in its Total Makeover form, it was good. Really good. Not chicken salad as I know it, and probably not as you know it, but still good. He had added more olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, dry sherry, red onions and lemon, and mixed it until the chicken (released from the tension of maintaining extremely tenuous cubes) fell apart into tuna-like shreds. I don’t know why it worked, and it certainly shouldn’t have, but it was a vast improvement. I was even more tired, and even more hungry, and I fell on my plate of vaguely Italianate chicken salad with great gusto.
There is no recipe; the salad may be a valid entry in “The Journal of Irreproducable Culinary Results” There is also no moral to this story; the moral would have to be that sometimes giving up control leads to good things. That being patently untrue, I will simply leave you to form your own conclusions.