Grapes are no strangers in chicken salad, adding sweetness and a burst of freshness to what can often be a rich, heavy dish. In Ripe, Nigel Slater riffs on this combination in A Salad of Game, Grapes, and Verjuice, upping the salad's grape quotient by using verjuice—the juice of unripe grapes—in the vinaigrette dressing. Verjuice adds mellow, slightly musky sourness, and is generally used in leu of vinegar, lemon juice, or wine in salad dressings and sauces. It's a little hard to find, but worth including for its intriguing complexity. In addition to the verjuice, Slater complements the grapes with bitter, crunchy radicchio; thinly sliced celery; and earthy toasted walnuts.
Slater does not limit the salad to chicken; indeed, as the name suggests he finds all manner of game and poultry appropriate. Instead of choosing the meat outright, he suggests using any leftovers available—a huge plus in my book, as I always tend to have leftover bits and pieces of roast chicken or turkey hanging out in the fridge.
Why I picked this recipe: I've eaten the grape-chicken salad combination before, but never with mysterious, musky verjuice.
What worked: The ratio of chicken, fruit, and vegetables was perfect; each bite of salad was simultaneously sweet, rich, juicy, and crisp.
What didn't: Verjuice doesn't lend quite the punch of vinegar or lemon juice. Without extra acid or salt, the salad tasted a bit flat.
Suggested Tweaks: I used cold roast chicken when making the salad, but as Slater suggests, any type of chilled leftover poultry would work well. A gamier meat such as duck or quail would be especially interesting.
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard to give away.