I’m not normally one to use a lot of citrus in my salads. Apples are one thing – with a lovely crunch and their round sweetness I think they’re a great foil for the addition of meat or nuts in a big mixed salad. Yet oranges have always seemed a little too overpowering for me. I do love the combination of citrus and chicken – as my favourite dish of Chicken, Fennel and Orange with Olives will attest -, and certainly, given the right balance they can do wonders for a dish, brightening them both to the eye and to taste. Blood oranges though, seem a different matter. They are, in fact, the most delicious and delicate of creatures: ruby and amber flesh and a tart sweetness that gives them a sophisticated edge over their rather more obvious cousins. I spent a bit of time in Venice when I was younger where a popular drink amongst my group was a pouring of dark, deep rum followed by a juicy wedge of blood orange to take the edge off. A sort of Veneto slammer and seriously one of my favourite things to do late at night (or early in the morning) in a wood panelled corner bar filled with swarthy Italians and friends. Obviously.
So, blood oranges are clearly on my favourites list and this salad gives them an opportunity to stand proud. I was inspired by this salad, with its lovely colour play and vibrant feel. Bright citrus flavours, gently poached chicken, sweet steamed beetroot and the melodic tang of coriander. It’s what my January needs: a little sparkle and pick me up and perhaps a little pouring of dark rum to follow.
BLOOD ORANGE, BEETROOT AND CHICKEN SALAD
2 skinless chicken breasts
The juice of 1 lemon
A small bunch of coriander
2 blood oranges
A pouring of extra virgin olive oil
Trim the stalks from the coriander and place in a large saucepan of water. Add a large pinch of salt and the juice from the lemon, cover and bring to the boil. Once the water is boiling, add the chicken breasts to the water, bring back to the boil and then cover and remove from the heat. Leave the pan to sit for half an hour before draining the chicken breasts and patting dry. This method allows the chicken to poach slowly, retaining the tenderness of the meat and adding a piquant flavour from the lemon and coriander. The chicken breasts will still be very hot when you remove them from the water so leave them to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220c. Trim the leaves from the beetroot, place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to cook for 45 minutes or until the beetroot are tender to a knife point. Remove from the heat and drain, leave to cool for 10 minutes or so and then run under the tap while removing the skins – they should just slide off with ease.
Peel the blood oranges and remove any excess pith and skin. Slice the oranges and cooked beetroot into rounds approximately 1 cm thick. Slice the cooked chicken diagonally giving into 1cm thick slices. Layer the beetroot, blood oranges and chicken onto a large serving dish or bowl, scatter over the coriander leaves and drizzle generously with the oil. Season well with sea salt and black pepper and serve.