My dad and I have a difference of opinion regarding the makings of a chop salad. I hold firmly to the belief that it is a type of salad with specific components. Dad insists that any salad with chopped ingredients is essentially a chop. In my book, it’s a chop if it has some semblance of salami, aged Italian cheese, basil, garbanzo beans, tomato and chicken or turkey. Dad is adamant that he’s been making this salad for years, minus the basil and garbanzos, throw in some bacon and bleu cheese. Sounds like a Cobb to me, Dad.
It was love at first bite when I tasted the chop salad at Palomino, shortly after moving to Seattle in the late 90’s. Their take on the veritable chop was a mainstay of my diet when I lived and worked downtown. With an artful blend of julienned basil and romaine, it defied the iceberg stigma, which at the time was sadly prevalent. Crisp greens were tossed with diced aged provolone, zingy wine salami, pert garbanzos, finely chopped tomato and smoky bits of turkey, finished with a splash of vinaigrette and freshly ground pepper. It provided four of the five food groups and a welcome departure from the humdrum sandwich routine.
A few years ago, I happened upon another chop salad: The Park Chop, at Volunteer Park Cafe. Their rendition had virtually identical components but was different… better. A chop salad for the 21st century, you might say. Local, organic greens were studded with strips of crispy salami, halved juicy grape tomatoes, tiny chunks of sharp asiago, plump garbanzo beans, ribbons of fragrant basil and flecks of sweet red pepper, all dressed to perfection in balsamic vinaigrette. I am fairly certain it came with roast chicken breast but I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is how I instantly fell in love with that salad.
So what did they go and do? They took it off the menu. What did I do? What could I do? Rather than relinquish the salad as nothing but a distant memory, I made up my mind to recreate it. I simply could not live without it. The park chop took on a new life in my kitchen and from the get-go, it has been on a steady rotation. In fact, dad even requests it by name.
Accompanied by hunks of dense, chewy bread and a red blend such as Meditrina from Dundee, OR, the chop is a meal unto itself. It is also quite stellar alongside homemade pizza.
the sated palate chop salad
1 pound free range boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 pint organic cherry or grape tomatoes, red or tri-color
4 ounces dry salami, sliced in 1/4 inch strips
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans (I prefer Eden or Westbrae)
4 roasted red or piquillo peppers, rinsed and finely diced
4 ounces diced asiago cheese (preferably imported)
1 large bunch basil, cut in 1/8” ribbons
10 ounces spring mix or mixed greens, rinsed well
4 teaspoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt such as maldon
2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic, optional
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Maldon or other coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
There are two ways to prepare this salad. One way is to toss everything together in a single bowl. The other method involves arranging all the ingredients on a platter and serving the greens naked so that each person selects their individual toppings. The latter works especially well for children.
In a large skillet, on medium-high, toss strips of salami, until brown and slightly crispy around the edges. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside pan with drippings.
Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. Trim any excess fat, or connective tissue. Slice meat on the diagonal, in slightly larger than bite-sized pieces. Drizzle evenly with 2 teaspoons light olive and toss to coat. Sprinkle sea salt over chicken, rubbing salt into the meat. In the skillet used for salami, heat drippings on medium-high with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Once hot, add chicken in a single layer or cook in two batches. Brown for 3 minutes on one side or until golden brown. Flip and turn heat to medium low, cooking for 2-3 additional minutes, until meat is cooked through. Cut into the thickest piece to be sure the center is no longer pink. When cut, juices should run clear. Transfer to plate and set aside.
For a crowd, it works best to combine all ingredients in a large bowl just before serving. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette, to lightly coat but not saturate greens and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl. For the gussied up version, artfully arrange the ingredients on a platter. Serve with mixed greens and a small carafe of vinaigrette.
Beat balsamic vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper, until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Taste and adjust as desired.