Chicken, cob nut and goat’s cheese salad

Weekday dinners, there’s always the temptation of giving in to something easy, whether that means pre-packed, takeaway or a sandwich. But ultimately there are lots of dishes that don’t take much effort and are healthy and delicious. Hearty salads are particularly good, often not involving much cooking with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Add some nuts / bread and you’ve got a complete meal.

Waitrose had fresh cob nuts for sale so I decided to base the meal around that. Cob nuts are a variety of hazelnut and have fallen foul of food fashion recently. There is a campaign to revive them seeing as they are a traditional part of Britain’s culinary heritage. Whilst they can be shelled and dried as per your usual nut, in season they can also be found fresh. The fresh nuts are mild and milky in colour which can be intensified with a quick dry toasting.

The first task is shelling, I attempted whacking with both a cast iron pan and a wooden chopping board. Both of these methods produced a lot of noise without much cracking (since the husk is fresh it has some bounce). Careful cracking with a nut cracker was definitely the way forward, at least much quieter (just trying not to squash the precious nuts inside). I was debating what to put in the salad, grilled peach sounded great but we’re at the end of the season and they were past their best. An apple took its place, together with cucumber, leaves, goat’s cheese and a few artichoke hearts I had left over. The combination of cob nut, goat’s cheese and apple was actually fantastic and made for a very complete dish.

The main protein of the dish is the grilled chicken breast, this is based around a Jamie Oliver recipe with a basil / parsley stuffing and lots of garlic and lemon. Make sure you crisp up the chicken skin on the grill and then you can finish it off in the oven.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • Fresh cobnuts (a couple of handfuls)
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 apple
  • 75g medium soft goat’s cheese
  • Punchy salad leaves (some rocket and watercress is good)
  • 2 chicken breasts (skin on)
  • 4 garlic gloves
  • 1 lemon
  • Parsley and basil
  • Dijon mustard
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Anything else you want to chuck in that will complement the core ingredients
As early as you can (2-24hrs before ideally) make the marinade. Boil the garlic gloves for 5-6 minutes to soften and take the edge off them. Mash them up with a fork, then add the zest and juice of the lemon, a glug of oil, the finely chopped parsley / basil and season to taste. Even out the chicken breasts by bashing them between clingfilm with a heavy pan or rolling pin to make cooking easier (trying to keep the skin attached to the breast). Place half the marinade in a pocket under the skin of the chicken breasts and then cover the breasts with the rest. Cover and leave in the fridge.
Take the breasts out of the fridge 1/2hr before cooking to bring them up to room temperature and pre-heat the oven to 180c. De-husk the cobnuts (a nut cracker worked best for me) retaining just the milky white nuts. Put a dry heavy pan on a medium heat and toast the cobnuts for 4-6 minutes moving frequently until they have a bit of colour and crunch. Set aside for later.

You can make the dressing now, I just used a simple vinaigrette (1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil shaken with a dash of mustard, salt and pepper). You can start prepping the salad now. Halve and de-seed the cucumber (if you wish, I prefer this as it is less watery), chop and put in a big bowl. Core and chop the apple and add the salad leaves. Chop the goat’s cheese into small chunks and add to the bowl. Add anything else you’re including in the salad, I had some artichoke hearts which I love.

Get a heavy pan (ideally a grill pan) nice and hot over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken breast skin side down and turn every minute for 5-6 minutes. Place straight in the oven for a further 5-7 minutes to finish cooking the breasts.

Dress the salad and place in a bowl, then slice the finished chicken and place on top. Enjoy!

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