I do a lot of complicated, multi-step recipes here. There are reasons for this, of course. One is that I want to keep things interesting. I mean, there are millions – possibly billions – of “easy” recipes out there, boasting 5 ingredients or less, 10 minutes or less, all pantry or store-bought items, one-pot, you name it. But I figure, how many 5-ingredient-chicken-and-veggie-casseroles does the internet need? If I’m going to cook for you, I want it to be fresh and intriguing. Sometimes that means embracing complexity.
The other, more important reason, is that I want to challenge myself. It’s all very well to master a dish, and I like that. But after a while, I get bored. I need something new, to keep my taste buds and my fingers and my mind nimble. I chose to become a professor, which means I work to teach. But I couldn’t have embarked on this career without being a bit of an eternal student, which means I want to learn. That’s why I do these annual projects here – exploring dough, whisking away at a sauce a month. To keep myself enthralled and improving, I have to tackle new challenges.
These challenges find their way to you, most of the time, after some finagling and practicing. Usually I get an idea, fiddle with it, add and subtract and mess and annotate, and out comes a recipe that I post here. It’s not often that I throw together some depth-of-the-fridge ingredients and produce something I consider blogworthy.
But “not often” isn’t the same as never. A few weeks ago, as a heat wave rendered Los Angeles practically immobile (or maybe that was just my un-air-conditioned living room), I dragged myself to the kitchen to (I hoped) find something reasonably delicious to throw together for dinner that didn’t involve the oven or the stove. Great expectations, no?
What we ended up with was a dinner that made our eyebrows climb, and almost immediately we were thinking about when we would have it again. And as sometimes happens, it was just what I had, layered together into something great. Chicken salad. Toast. Avocado smashed with extravagant quantities of lemon juice and raw garlic. Layered and mounded into an open-faced sandwich as at home on a picnic blanket as on your dining room table. So bright and fresh! Satisfying but so light and summery! And, if you have had the presence of mind to make your chicken salad the day before (or, if you’ve got a deli you love, bought some), assembly requires all of five minutes with minimal application of heat. Oh, and if you find yourself in need of a way to use up some homemade mayonnaise, this is your salad.
This is a summer dinner you need to make. And then make again. Because really, complexity is fun, but sometimes simple is just right.
A few extra thoughts: the lemon and garlic smashed avocado is currently my food crush. It’s great with the chicken salad, but it would also be spectacular (and really quite aesthetically lovely too) underneath thin slices of hard boiled egg or smoked salmon. Or, you know, just plain on toast. Or to dip chips into. Or a spoon.
I’m also thinking you could quarter your toast slices, or even cut them into long, skinny toast soldiers, before loading them up, to make sweet tea sandwiches or easy hors d’oeuvres for a bridal or baby shower.
Finally, and this is not about chicken salad or avocado, if you have an iPhone, you should ask Siri “What does the Fox say?” Then you should ask her again. It could well be that I’m the last person on the planet to know about this, but still. You’re welcome.
Chicken Salad and Smashed Avocado toasts
Much about this recipe is to your liking. More or less mayonnaise, more or less salt, a few extra grinds of pepper, a squeeze or two less lemon juice – use your taste buds and find out what you like best. These are suggested quantities that we found we liked enough to want to tell you about it almost immediately.
For the chicken salad:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup finely sliced green onions (from 3-4 green onions)
⅓ cup celery, stalks halved or quartered lengthwise, then finely sliced (from 1-2 stalks)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons roughly chopped capers
¼ cup mayonnaise, or to taste (for us, 6 tablespoons, or ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoon, ended up being perfect)
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to grease a 9×9 inch square baking dish.
- Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper on both sides, then nestle them into the pan in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken.
- Bake for 45-60 minutes or until juices run clear and flesh reaches an internal temperature of 165F. You know, fully cooked chicken. Remove from oven and cool completely.
- While the chicken cools, assemble and prep the other ingredients. Place the green onions, celery, dill, lemon zest, mustard, and capers in a large bowl and toss together with a fork.
- When the chicken is cool, shred or cube it. I prefer my chicken salad shredded. To do this, place one chicken breast on a cutting board or a plate. Stab two forks, backs facing each other, into the chicken and pull them away from each other to shred it. Or, if you prefer, stab the chicken with one fork and hold it stationary, while you drag the other fork through the meat to create shreds. See photos above.
- Add the cooled, shredded (or cubed) meat to the bowl with your other ingredients.
- Add the mayonnaise and toss with the chicken and vegetables to combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as desired. Be careful, though: the smashed avocado gets salt of its own, so don’t overdo it on the sodium here unless you are a salt fiend.
For the toasts:
8 slices sourdough bread (2 slices per person; thick sliced would be lovely)
2 whole avocados
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Handful of arugula or spinach leaves, optional
- Toast your bread in a toaster or under the broiler until nicely golden. While it toasts, halve your avocados, remove the pits, and put the flesh in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and pepper.
- Peel and finely chop your garlic cloves. When they are well minced, sprinkle them with the ¼ teaspoon coarse salt. Using the flat of your knife, drag it across the garlic and salt, applying firm pressure. The idea here is that the salt will act as an abrasive, breaking down the garlic into a paste to make it less aggressive (biting into a chunk of raw garlic is an adventure, but not always a fun one), and to help it integrate more easily into the avocado. Repeat until the garlic becomes a pulpy, juicy paste.
- Scrape the salted garlic paste into the avocado bowl, and smash the ingredients together with a fork into a chunky green mass. Delicious. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking, remembering that the acidity will be cut a bit when you add the toast and chicken salad components.
- To build these open-face sandwiches, for each slice of toast, spread a few tablespoons of smashed avocado all the way out to the edges, scatter a few fresh arugula or spinach leaves over it, if desired, and then spoon ¼ – ½ cup chicken salad on top in an even layer.
- That’s it! Serve up. Enjoy.