Mandarin and chicken salad

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North Queenslanders love their mandarins and this delicious citrus fruit is one of the most popular backyard trees grown up this way. While they are usually just peeled and eaten as a snack, adding them to an Asian-style salad is a great way to bring some zing to your dinner table . . .

I think just about everyone in this part of the world has memories of gorging themselves on mandarins in their youth. Not many kids can resist the wonderful sweet/sour balance of this popular fruit and I know I got hooked on them young and still love them today.

Most people have a tree and those that don’t usually have a friend, neighbour or relative who is more than happy to share their bounty each winter. Yes, North Queenslanders are generous with their mandarins.

You see them being handed out as a half-time sugar boost at junior sports games, plastic shopping bags full of them being dropped off at family-member’s houses as gifts, and boxes brimming with them left on workplace smoko tables so co-workers can help themselves to an armful. No money changes hand and no one goes without.

Emperor mandarins are an old, but popular variety

Emperor mandarins are an old, but popular variety

Originating from Asia, mandarins, along with the citron, the pomelo and the papeda, are believed to be the four species that all other citrus were derived from. They made their way to Queensland during early colonial times because of their suitability to the northern tropical, and southern sub-tropical, climates this state enjoys. New varieties were soon developed and today they are grown here commercially on a large scale.

When I was a kid, emperor mandarins (an Australian variety that has been around since 1890) were the stock standard type that everyone grew. You see a lot of them in backyards and with their easy-to-peel skin and sweet/sour taste they are still popular.

To me, they’re the classic mandarin. These days though, you rarely see them in supermarkets. Apparently the sweeter murcots and imperials are what the big corporate boys think their customers prefer.

I think all varieties are wonderful and grow the later-bearing murcots as well as emperors, so as to have a supply over a longer period.

And with such an abundance, it pays to experiment with different ways they can be used.

Something that has always appealed to me is using fresh, sweet fruits with meat in salads. You have to balance the sweetness against the other flavours, but when you get it right, it’s heaven!

There are many ways to do this and the Asian-style recipe that follows is a great example of using the classic sweet/sour/salty/spicy combination of flavours that feature in so many dishes from this region.

The crunchiness of the noodles and almonds also provide a contrast in texture to the soft mandarin and poached chicken segments.

Chicken and mandarin salad

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts

Mixed salad leaves (cos ,mignonette, endive or similar . . . preferably from your own garden!)

3 mandarins (1 will be used for juice in dressing)

1/2 cup crispy fried Chinese noodles

1/2 cup toasted almond flakes

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

For the dressing

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons mandarin juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 garlic clove

1 jalapeno chilli (adjust amount to your own taste)

1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Method

First you need to poach the chicken breasts. To do this place them in saucepan and cover with water. Add pepper and mustard seeds, along with a pinch of salt to saucepan. Place on stove on high heat and bring to the boil. Then turn down heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and allow to cool, then slice into bite-sized pieces.

Peel 2 mandarins and divide into segments. I sliced the sides of the segments for presentation purposes, but this isn’t necessary. Mix together mandarin segments, chicken segments, toasted almonds, crispy noodles and salad leaves.

For the dressing, place garlic and grated ginger in mortar and mash with pestle. Then add olive oil, sesame oil, mandarin juice, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and stir to combine. Finely slice the jalapeno chilli and add to dressing and have a taste test to see if it is balanced. If one flavour is dominating (the saltiness of the soy sauce, sourness of the vinegar or sweetness of the mandarin juice), make small adjustments to suit your palate.

Once you’re happy with the taste, drizzle over salad and toss lightly. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over top to finish.

Serve and enjoy.

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