As I write this, it is one week after my very first trip to Paris.

Now, I understand.  I understand all the songs, the stories and the movies … all the people who have declared their love for this city.  The wide boulevards, the amazing buildings, the parks, the fountains … oh, and the FOOD!!!  Holy moly, the food.

My friend, Diane, says that it’s a woman’s city and I agree.  Every last thing in this city is festooned with some kind of carving or decoration – that is, if it’s not covered with gold leaf. Paris is a city dedicated to beauty and pleasure.  It doesn’t have the same OCD, hospital corner feeling of Washington, DC or the “mine-is-bigger-than-yours” feeling that NYC has with its skyscrapers.  And it definitely doesn’t have the higgeldy-piggeldy feeling that London has, with its twisty streets and secret alleys.

Oh, and did I mention the food?

My first night, I had the most amazing steak frites with bearnaise sauce.  The simplicity of the dish meant that the chef had to get everything just right because there would be no hiding behind garnish or elaborate decoration.  Another of my favorite dishes was a simple lentil salad as a starter – the tastes were subtle and balanced and the portions were normal, not elephant-sized.  The French get it just right – they focus on the best and the freshest ingredients rather than overcomplicating everything.  I know they have a reputation for their sauces, but even those are an accompaniment, not the focus.  They are the harmony, not the soaring melody.

So, with that in mind, I tried to come up with a simple lunch dish that was inspired by that incroyable bearnaise – something that had a hint of Les Halles, an element of the Champs Elysee and a soupçon of Sacre Coeur.  Oh, who am I kidding … with the Dijon, tarragon and baguette, it really does hit you over the head with its Frenchness like something out of a Pink Panther movie.  Bon apetit!

Parisian Chicken Salad

  • 4 chicken breasts, cooked, cooled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 Tbsp scallions, diced
  • handful red seedless grapes, diced
  • 1 cup French Mayonnaise (more or less)*
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

When I made this, I had 4 chicken breasts that I needed to use, so I cooked them simply, drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil, a little lemon juice and salt and pepper.  However, any left-over chicken will do, just cut it up small enough or shred it.  I know a lot of people aren’t big on celery, but I find that it adds a nice crunchy texture to the salad while the diced grapes add a little sweetness in contrast to the Dijon mustard.  If you don’t want to use celery, then the toasted walnuts would be nice.  Lastly, the quantity of mayonnaise – I suggested a cup, but really, it’s up to you how dry or wet you like your chicken salad.  Add a 1/3 cup at a time and go from there.  But, basically, it’s just a matter of throwing everything into a bowl and mixing, then serving on nice, fresh baguette with some peppery arugula (rocket) – since you have grapes in the mix, tomatoes on the sandwich would be overkill, IMO.  Enjoy!!

*  If you don’t want to make mayonnaise from scratch, play around with Hellmanns, about a tsp of Dijon mustard and about a tsp of fresh or dried tarragon – don’t use too much as it packs a punch.  Then season to taste.

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