Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
This much is true: Many words have been spilled on the perils of pairing wine to asparagus. To sum up quickly, conventional wisdom has asparagus—with its green, pungent, menthol flavors—in the “wine killer” camp. But should that deter you? Definitely not. One of the easy ways to make a wine-friendly meal with asparagus is to load up on plenty of other flavors on the plate, as with this recipe below. (WineSpectator.com members: For more on the science behind matching asparagus to wine—even red wine—read editor at large Harvey Steiman’s blog.)
Here, we have what is essentially a breaded chicken sandwich, ye olde standby of the deli counter, in a fresh green spring salad. For a more gourmet spin, though, instead of coating and frying chicken breasts in a bread crumb and Parmesan mixture, each of the ingredients is prepared simply on its own, then tossed together with peppery baby arugula.
Asparagus gets used in the salad two ways: the raw portion is shaved into long ribbons with a vegetable peeler, while the other half is roasted to a nice golden-brown char. If you’re running short on time, you can choose one or the other, but the two preparations make a nice textural and flavor contrast when working with an otherwise minimalist list of ingredients.
Here’s the good news wine-wise: For all the foreboding, most of the wines we opened did just fine. An unoaked Chardonnay from South Africa was totally passable, but perhaps better on its own than with the dish. A slightly off-dry rosé from the Loire was great with the char on the chicken and roast asparagus, but just a touch too sweet overall. The only real whiff of the flight came from a Cabernet Franc from the Loire, which tasted fine on its own but metallic and flat with the food.
A Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc from Quincy, a neighbor of Sancerre, emerged as the true winner: The asparagus and the lemon juice in the dressing highlighted the citrusy aspects in the wine.
Roast Chicken and Asparagus Salad
Pair with a Sauvignon Blanc, such as Domaine de Villalin Quincy 2010 (88 points, $20)
Total time: 30 minutes
Approximate food cost: $38
- 1 lemon
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 baguette, thinly sliced into rounds
- 2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed and washed
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 5 ounces baby arugula
- 1/4 pound shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the chicken breasts, season with salt and set aside.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the slices of baguette and continue to cook until crisped on one side, then flip them over using tongs and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove the croutons to a plate, and cook the remaining slices by batches, adding more oil when necessary.
3. Rub 1/2 of the asparagus (1 bunch) with cooking oil and season with salt. Place the asparagus in a roasting pan and cook in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus begins to brown. Remove from the oven and reserve.
4. Heat two tablespoons of oil in one large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan (or two medium-size pans), over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sear until golden brown, around 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the chicken over and put the pan in the oven to finish cooking. When the chicken is done, around 6 to 8 more minutes, remove from the oven and reserve.
5. While the chicken is cooking, shave the remaining asparagus lengthwise with a vegetable peeler or mandolin. Cut the long shavings into 2-inch pieces.
6. Make a salad dressing by mixing the minced garlic with the juice from the remaining half of the lemon and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the chicken and the roasted asparagus into bite-size pieces. Toss the arugula, chicken, roasted asparagus, shaved asparagus and cheese with the salad dressing in a large bowl. Season with salt. Divide the salad and the croutons among four plates. Serves 4.