I was never one to go for chicken salad. I thought it too mushy, too mayonnaise-y and bland. This was my stance on the ubiquitous cafeteria fare until I got to college, where there was a sandwich place on campus that was only open for lunch. They made all kinds of sandwiches to order and the line was generally out the door. Bored of turkey and tuna, I bravely ordered the chicken salad after much urging from my friends. That sandwich was a revelation. Yes, it was chicken salad, but it was made with pieces of real chicken and studded with slightly crunchy celery and red onions. Sure it was covered in mayonnaise, but it was delicious with some salt and vinegar chips and a Diet Coke. This lunch sustained me for 4 years in Boston and fueled many afternoon shifts at the Student Services counter.
Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and I still don’t really like chicken salad all that much. Unless it’s made right, I don’t want it at all. Though I loved my college lunch, this poblano chicken salad has nothing to do with the standard cafeteria fare. It all starts with real chicken. Chicken thighs, to be exact. I rub them in olive oil and chili powder and roast them alongside whole poblano peppers. The chicken emerges from the oven juicy and flavorful, poblanos soft and smoky. The peppers’ skin is removed, seeds discarded and the flesh is blended with just a little bit of mayonnaise and lime juice. This spicy, creamy and tangy sauce is mixed with red onions (for crunch) and the shredded chicken into the most wonderful salad.
Squashed between two slices of whole wheat bread, it’s lunch nirvana, something to sustain me through long afternoon meetings.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chili powder
3 poblano peppers
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
juice of 1/2 lime
Sandwich bread, lettuce and tomato slices (optional)
Rub your chicken in olive oil and chili powder and let marinate for about 30 minutes (you can skip this step if you’re short on time).
Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the chicken in a single layer at the bottom of a roasting pan. If the peppers fit, place them whole in the same roasting pan in a single layer. If not, put them in their own dish or right on the rack if you’re daring. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the peppers’ skin is bubbling.
Remove the chicken to a bowl and let cool completely. In the meantime, make your poblano mayonnaise. Place the peppers in a bag or other covered container for 5 – 10 minutes. By this time, your peppers should have cooled enough to handle. Peel off and discard the pepper skin, then remove the stem and seeds.
Place the peppers in a blender or food processor along with the mayonnaise, salt and lime juice. Pulse for a minute, or until the the contents are relatively smooth.
Using 2 forks (or your hands), shred the chicken, then mix with the poblano mayonnaise and red onion.
Makes enough for 2 very large sandwiches, or 4 smaller ones.