Talk About Good! Chicken and Avocado Salad Lafayette Style, for the Super Bowl
That would be Lafayette, Louisiana, not Lafayette, Indiana. The style would be that of the city’s Junior League, circa1967, and Talk About Good! would be the title of said Junior League’s classic fundraising cookbook, a spiral bound journey to the South that was popular long before the food of New Orleans achieved nationwide cult status.
At this point T.A.G is more of a cultural artifact than a source of great recipe ideas, but there are a few gems that still shine with undiminished luster. A “Congealed Avocado and Chicken salad,” for instance, contributed by Mrs. Jacque Puken, of Eunice, LA, doesn’t sound all that promising, but in fact it’s absolutely delicious and a perfect make-ahead for a crowd. It’s hearty enough to be a main dish, light enough to play well with all the chili, boudin and/or brats, easy to serve and easy to eat – with or without a fork.
When I decided to do this I was thinking only about New Orleans. But just to put the cherry on the congealed salad, you could say it’s a tribute to Indianapolis as well; the gelatin obviously binds it to the jello-based concoctions so popular in the Midwest.*
Sorry Hoosiers, but there’s simply no contest – you’re gonna get beat in the kitchen no matter what happens on the playing field. When your culinary historians can’t come up with anything more than corn, pork sandwiches and being the birthplace of Wonder Bread, you know you’ve got a problem.
Background: I wasn’t planning to talk about the Super Bowl – what’s to say, really? – at all but then I got annoyed by a recipe for a “lighter, more contemporary” gumbo, clearly timed to address football eats in a year when New Orleans – !Go Saints! – is playing for the first time. Nothing really wrong with the dish in question except its fundamental premise: traditional gumbos in all their assorted glories are to be passed over in favor of modernity and abstemiousness.
But then what? New Orleans is a place that loves parties, food and talking about food in pretty much equal measure; there are dozens of terrific cookbooks and websites full of jambalayas and gumbos, po’ boys and peacemakers. No need for me to insert my oar into those familiar waters.
Off to the cookbook shelf, there to be greeted by an old friend.
CONGEALED CHICKEN AND AVOCADO SALAD ( adapted from Talk About Good)
For about 1 1/2 quarts, 8- 10 main dish servings, enough pate for 25 or more, depending on what else you’re having. (Recipe may be doubled, which would tidily use one 4 lb. chicken)
1 1/2 c. strong chicken broth
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 tbl. lemon juice
1 c. finely diced celery
3 tbl. minced parsley ( you can of course substitute cilantro, but it’s interesting to taste avocado without it – kind of like apples without cinnamon)
3 cups chopped cooked chicken, light and dark meat
1/2 c. plus 2 tbl. mayonnaise
salt and white pepper
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 small onion, finely shredded or grated
2 tbl. lime juice
1 1/2 large or 2 small avocadoes, enough to make 1 heaping c. mashed
1/3 c. sour cream
1/3 c. finely dicd green pepper (use part or all jalapeno if you like, but see parsley, above)
Crisps and crunchies: crackers, corn chips, toasted sliced almonds, shredded lettuce…
1. Assemble molding pans: loaf, bowl, fancy molds… rinse with cold water, line with plastic wrap and set aside. Don’t forget that if you want to have avocado on top of a tapered mold you have to prepare and put that layer in first. As long as the first layer is chilled before the second one goes on, order doesn’t matter.
2. For the chicken: Put 1/4 cup room temperature broth in a heatproof bowl, sprinkle on the gelatin and let soften, then heat the rest of the broth just to boiling and stir it in to dissolve. Add the lemon juice. Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate until gloppy – thickened but not yet solidified.
3. Stir in the celery, parsley and chicken, then the mayo. Taste, then season quite highly with salt and pepper. Put it in the prepared pan(s), pressing down to remove air spaces. Cover and chill.
4. For the Avocado: Put 2 tbl. cool water in a heatproof bowl, sprinkle on the gelatin and let soften, then stir in 1/3 c. boiling water, the salt, onion and lime juice. Cool, then chill until gloppy (see above).
5. Mash the avocado now. Stir in the sour cream and diced pepper and add to the gelatin mixture. Taste and adjust salt. (If the avocados taste bland, a tiny pinch of sugar and a drop – literally – of peanut oil may help). Spread over the chicken layer and chill.
That’s it. Salad keeps 2 or 3 days refrigerated, cover tightly to keep the onion odor from spreading around. I’m still playing with the leftovers from recipe testing. Made little turnovers this afternoon with some ( also leftover) flaky sour cream pastry. Very tasty; the gelatin keeps the filling moist without turning the crust soggy.
* Parts of the south, too, to tell the truth. T.A.G offers many jello-based extravaganzas that would be right at home on the banks of the Wabash.
A few favorite moments from Talk About Good :
A recipe for Veal Scallopini Dip ” for a large crowd” that starts out by having you cut 6 to 8 pounds of thinly sliced veal into 1×2 inch pieces,which are then floured and deep fried before being stewed into submission.
A recipe for OKRA (Summer Preparation for Winter Gumbo) that reminds me of my own exhortations about making use of the freezer. It begins: ” I buy fresh okra by the sack in summer and freeze it cooked down, ready for instant winter gumbo when water and seafood are added…” Needless to say, there’s a lot more than okra in the recipe and its author admits ” You can easily allow one day for the preparation,” before saying “but it’s well worth it…”
A recipe for Easy Guacamole Salad that starts with mashing several ingredients and helpfully advises ” (This is best done with a child’s potato masher if you can find one, otherwise use a pastry blender)…”
A recipe for Chicken Genoa that would probably surprise Italians by calling for a pound of butter to cook two 2-pound chickens. You do skin the chickens first…
Quick Grits souffle for 100? It’s in there. Tamales (25 or 30 dozen)? Gotcha covered.
Meanwhile, on the arts front, check out the high-end trash talk and wager between the rival cities’ art museums. Just when you’re feeling gloomy about culture in America, here comes this priceless piece of good cheer.