It may seem a bit much to devote a whole chapter of the definitive guide to salad to bread but what can I say. I LOVE them.
Whoever first thought of tearing bread into chunks and tossing them with the salad dressing, rather than serving a slice on the side is a genius. Mystery bread salad inventor we owe you a big THANKYOU.
I still remember my first encounter with bread salad in the famous Caesar salad. It was years ago on a water skiing weekend at my dear mate Missy Helgs’ place at Wyangla Dam. While I struggled unsuccessfully to get the skis to go on top of the water, I didn’t struggle to enjoy the ‘exotic’ salad made by Missy Helgs’ long since ex-boyfriend. At the time I thought it was the height of sophistication – crunchy cos lettuce, shaved parmesan, crispy bacon and crunchy croutons smothered in a creamy dressing out of a bottle. So good.
My next encounter with bread salad was during my Claudia Roden obsession. I’ve had a few people mention Lebanese Fattoush to me recently – a salad of toasted (or fried) pita bread – a crunchy contrast to fresh tomato, cucumber with a little red capsicum (pepper) and mint or parsley. Simple, fresh and good.
An extension of the fattoush, is a little number I invented by accident – crispy salad of flat bread with zucchini and tuna. Fried ribbons of pita bread spiced with baharat (a Lebanese spice blend) and tossed with grated zucchini and canned tuna. It’s one of those dishes that seems so much more than the sum of its parts.
Then there came the Italians with their sublime tomato & bread combo – Panzanella. Something I blogged about on stonesoup in the early days, before I’d invested in my camera. More recently I gave this delicious salad a minimalist twist with a Catalan inspired tomato bread salad.
Although I don’t like to play favourites with my food, especially my salads, if I was forced to choose my favourite bread salad, I’d have to go with a roast chicken and bread salad. Inspired in equal parts by Skye Gyngell from London’s Petersham Nursries and Judy Rodgers from San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe, my first stonesoup version was delicious, but not exactly minimalist. So I’ve pared the concept back to the basics with a shop bought BBQ chook, some rustic bread, dressing, a few leaves and a not-essential-but-nice-to-have handful of toasted pine nuts. Perfect for a casual Summer dinner.
No doubt my affair with the bread salad will continue. Any time I feel like beefing up a salad, I think about tossing in a few chunks of bread. I did this just the other night for an impromptu dinner with my ski patrolling sister who took a little time away from the slopes to come home for our littlest sister’s wedding. Leftover cooked cauliflower, radicchio, sourdough chunks, balsamic dressing and a little shaved parmesan – a surprisingly delicious dinner.
tips for bread salad goodness
- A great way to use up stale bread
- If you’re using fresh bread, toast it or pop in the oven to dry out for a while so it will absorb the dressing
- Allow enough time for the dressing to soak into some of the bread
- Don’t leave it for more than an hour or you run the risk of soggy salad
- Look for natural sources of juices like tomatoes or roast chicken
BBQ chook & bread salad
My first experiments with a chicken and bread salad were using a home roasted chook with a lemon up the clacker. The way the lovely lemony pan juices soak into the bread is a thing of beauty. If you have time I highly recommend trying this salad with a home cooked bird.
For times when you need diner in a hurry, a ready-to-eat chicken picked up from a BBQ shop or even the supermarket makes a mighty fine substitute. I actually used a supermarket chicken when I was taking the photo here and was really surprised that not only was it free range but tasted a little like chicken. Not the most amazing chicken but a very pleasant surprise.
If you have stale bread this is a brilliant way to use it up. Just skip the toasting step.
1/3 medium loaf sourdough or other rustic bread (approx 250g or 8oz)
2T red wine vinegar
1T wholegrain mustard
4T extra virgin olive oil
1 small BBQ chook (that’s a chicken for readers outside of Oz)
2T pine nuts, toasted, optional
4 handfuls mixed salad leaves
Trim the base and side crusts from the bread and tear into bight sized pieces. Toast under and overhead grill or in the oven for a few minutes until just starting to brown. You want some crispy bits but others still nice and soft.
Combine vinegar, mustard and oil in a large salad bowl and season well. Toss through the bread.
If there are any roasting juices from your chicken, drain and add to the bread mixture. Tear chicken from the bones into bight sized chunks, resisting the urge to pick and nibble as you go. I like to leave the skin on but for the more health conscious feel free to remove it.
Toss chicken through the bread and allow to stand for at least 5 minutes. Toss through the pine nuts and leaves and serve.
A big THANKYOU to everyone who came to hear me talk about my cookbook ‘and the love is free’ at the Yass library in rural NSW. You made my first day of self employment seem a lot less scary.
If you’re looking for an excellent simple roast chicken recipe, my Mum’s roast chook features in the book. For more details or to order a copy click HERE.