If you’ve never put sweet fruit into a savory salad, I urge you to try this recipe. The contrast between the cool, crisp pears and apples with the juicy grapes and creamy cheese, all off-set by the savory grilled chicken, butter-toasted nuts and tender leafy greens, makes this salad unusually good.
- Nonreactive dish to marinate the chicken (such as Pyrex)
- Melon-ball-scooper: to scoop out the seed cavity of the pears
- Large stove-top grill pan (preferably one with a nonstick finish), only if grilling indoors
- Outdoor grill (gas or charcoal): only if grilling outdoors
- Salad spinner
For the dressing/chicken marinade
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 4 heaping tablespoons honey-Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
- 2/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup pure olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Asian chili paste (available in Asian markets and some well-stocked supermarkets)
- 4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, not pounded
For the salad
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 generous cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Olive oil or vegetable spray
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 generous cup red seedless grapes
- 2 large unpeeled, cored and cubed ripe pears (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 large unpeeled Granny Smith apple, cut into julienne (about 1 cup)
- 12 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (preferably a high-quality creamy type, like Dolcelatte dolce), chilled and cut into medium dice
- 1 pound (14 to 16 cups) mesclun, rinsed and spun dry
To marinate the chicken
Use a whisk to combine the shallots, mustard, salt, juice concentrate, vinegar, oil and black pepper in a nonreactive bowl. Pour 1 cup of the prepared dressing into another nonreactive bowl and stir in the chili paste to create the marinade. Chill the remaining dressing until needed. (The taste of the dressing improves if assembled several hours before serving.) Rinse and pat the chicken dry, and place them in a nonreactive dish. Season the chicken, on both sides, with black pepper and pour the marinade over the pieces, coating well, on both sides. Cover the dish and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
To sauté the nuts
Place a doubled sheet of paper towels on a plate and set this aside. Melt the butter in a 10-to 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and, when hot and bubbling, stir in the nuts. Cook the nuts, stirring constantly, until fragrant and light golden, about 2 minutes. Pour the nuts onto the prepared plate and shimmy them, to remove the excess butter. Remove the paper, leaving the nuts on the plate, and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Set the nuts aside.
To grill the chicken, outdoors or indoors
Take the chicken out of the refrigerator, 30 minutes before grilling. Heat an outdoor gas grill on high or heat a charcoal grill to the gray ash stage. Alternatively, heat a large stove top grill-pan until very hot, with your overhead exhaust fan turned on. When hot, oil the rack to your grill or your grill-pan and, after letting the oiled surface heat for a minute or so, lay the chicken pieces on the hot surface. Grill the chicken until golden on each side and the meat is cooked through, but still succulent, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and let the pieces rest, tented loosely with aluminum foil.
To assemble the salad
Slice the chicken into diagonal strips and sprinkle the pieces lightly with coarse salt. Place the greens into a large mixing bowl and lightly coat with some of the reserved dressing. Add the grapes, pears, apples and half of both the cheese and the toasted nuts. Toss the mixture gently but thoroughly, then divide the salad between individual serving plates and scatter the remaining cheese and nuts lightly over the top. Arrange several slices of grilled chicken either on top or around the salad and serve the dish immediately, with any additional dressing passed separately, at the table.
Timing is Everything
The chicken can be marinated one day ahead and kept refrigerated. You can grill the chicken two hours ahead and serve it at room temperature. Slice just before serving.
The greens can be cleaned and spun dry two days ahead and kept refrigerated in a jumbo plastic bag, lined with paper towels.