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For many it's almost holiday time. If you are planning a picnic in the park, a gathering at the beach or simply an alfresco lunch in the garden you will want food which looks and tastes irresistibly delicious and travels well.
Picnic food looks casual, bright and breezy served on vintage china or a collection of cheerfully coloured plates with pretty napkins, or it can take on a stylish air served on large, flat platters.
Luscious, light and lovely, this chicken salad is perfect picnic fare. The chicken breasts, gently poached to keep them tender and moist, are shredded then stirred into the most addictive peanut and sesame dressing. The slight sweet-saltiness of peanut butter adds a complex note to this.
I love the dazzling green and red freshness of the salad, primarily edamame beans and red capsicum which contrasts so well with the creamy dressing coating the chicken.
This is a complete meal on a platter or in a bowl - nothing else is needed but sometimes I do serve warm crusty slices of ciabatta bread to accompany.
I keep the chicken in its dressing separate from the salad until just prior to serving and then toss the two together. The salad, with its light sesame and lime dressing, retains its bright vibrant colours and is not masked or dulled by the chicken's peanut dressing.
Poaching chicken this way is so easy and absolutely foolproof. The poaching liquid, flavoured with herbs and a spice or two, is brought to a rolling boil, the chicken added, the lid replaced and the saucepan removed from the heat. The chicken is left to ''poach'' for one hour then lifted, perfectly cooked, from the saucepan.
Edamame beans are immature soy bean harvested while young and green. Most edamame beans available here are frozen either in the pod or shelled. They have a delicate taste and blend well with a host of other ingredients.
Sesame, peanut and chicken salad
Poached chicken breasts
1 onion, roughly chopped
several sprigs of thyme
handful flat-leaf parsley
10 or 12 black peppercorns
2 star anise
1kg skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Buy the best-quality chicken you can afford and choose smaller chicken breasts rather than large.
Place onion, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and star anise into a large saucepan (a large pan is needed to accommodate all of the chicken pieces).
Three quarters fill with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer briskly for 10 minutes, bring back to the boil and add the chicken breasts, put the lid on and remove the saucepan from the heat.
Leave to "poach'' for one hour. Lift the chicken from the poaching liquid and drain.
Cool in the fridge. Using 2 forks, pull the chicken apart, shredding it into bite-size pieces.
Sesame peanut dressing
100g peanut butter
⅓ cup boiling water
2 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp soy sauce (I use Kikkoman)
⅓ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
While the chicken is poaching, make the dressing.
Place the peanut butter into a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Then add the remaining ingredients and stir well to mix.
Put the shredded chicken into a bowl and pour the peanut dressing over the chicken. Toss lightly to coat the chicken.
Cover and refrigerate until needed. This can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead of time if convenient.
For the salad
350g shelled edamame beans, frozen, cooked according to packet directions
1 large red capsicum, deseeded and cut into small strips
2 spring onions, finely sliced
150g bean sprouts
½ telegraph cucumber, seeds scooped out, flesh diced
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp garlic flavoured oil
2 tsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp lime juice
¾ cup chopped roasted peanuts
In a large bowl combine the cooked edamame beans, capsicum, spring onions, bean sprouts, cucumber and mint.
In a small bowl stir together the sesame oil, garlic oil and soy sauce and toss through the salad. This can be done several hours before serving if convenient.
Refrigerate until needed. Just prior to serving sprinkle the lime juice over the salad and toss gently to combine.
Then add the chicken in its peanut dressing and toss again until well mixed. Scatter the peanuts over the top
Spoon on to a large serving platter and garnish with fresh herbs.
If travelling, pack chicken and peanut dressing into a snap lock plastic container and the salad into another. Place these into a chilly bin with lots of ice packs.
Pack a large bowl into which the chicken and the salad can be tossed together just prior to serving. Let everyone serve themselves.