Damien Pignolet's chicken salad with coddled egg vinaigrette

  • 4–5 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 bunches medium thick asparagus, bases trimmed
  • 3 heads witlof, outer layer of leaves removed
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped blanched almonds or whole pine nuts, dry-roasted until golden
  • 2 punnets mustard cress or generous handful small watercress sprigs, washed and snipped

Poaching stock

  • 2 golden shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 150 ml dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • about 1 litre cold water
  • 6 cracked black peppercorns
  • 2–3 teaspoons sea salt

Take chicken breasts out of fridge 30 minutes before cooking.

Select a sauté pan or wide pan which has a tight-fitting lid and will accommodate the breasts in one layer without them being crammed into the pan. Put poaching stock ingredients into the pan and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Taste and adjust seasoning – it should be quite highly seasoned.

Strain resulting broth, rinse out pan and pour broth back into it.

Return to a rapid boil. Add chicken breasts; they must be submerged, so have the kettle boiling to top up if needed. Put on lid and turn off heat. (Take pan off stove completely if cooking with electricity.) Leave untouched for 10 minutes.

Transfer chicken breasts to a plate, cover lightly with plastic film and leave for 15 minutes to rest and complete the cooking. (Reserve broth, as it can be used as a soup base.) Diagonally slice off asparagus tips in lengths of about 3–4 cm, then continue slicing stalks in 2 cm lengths. Cook for 2–3 minutes in a saucepan of salted boiling water (they should remain firm). Drain and refresh under cold running water until cold. Drain and transfer to a plate.

Vinaigrette

  • 2 eggs, boiled for 3 minutes and then refreshed in cold water
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1–2 tablespoons good quality white-wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Trim roots from witlof, then cut each into sixths lengthwise. To make vinaigrette, place each egg on a board and crack with a sharp knife, then open over a large bowl so the yolk can run into it. Use a teaspoon to scoop out any remaining firmer yolk. Finely chop whites. Combine mustard, salt and plenty of white pepper with the egg yolks. Slowly whisk in olive oil to achieve a thickened texture, as if making a mayonnaise. Gradually add vinegar until it tastes fresh but not too sharp. Add egg whites and parsley. Carve chicken breasts into 1 cm slices widthwise and add to vinaigrette, along with witlof and asparagus stalks, keeping tips for a finishing touch. Toss gently to coat the ingredients with the vinaigrette.

Distribute chicken, asparagus and witlof among 6 large plates.

Arrange asparagus tips on top then scatter with nuts and cress and serve.

Serves 6