My plan was to have roast chicken and vegetables for dinner. Then the unthinkable happened. You read about it in magazines, you hear about it from your best friend’s mom, but you don’t ever think it will happen to you. The chicken was…off.
The night before, I patted the chicken dry, salted it liberally, and let it air out in the refrigerator for 24 hours. I patted it dry again, rubbed it all over with good olive oil, and put it in the oven for an hour. It came out beautifully golden brown and I carved it while Mom set the table and lit the candles. Mom, Dad, and I grabbed our favorite cuts of the bird, scattered some roasted vegetables on the plate and sat down at the table, excited to eat a beautiful roast chicken on a Tuesday night. Then we took our first bite. We took more bites, not saying much about the food, turning the discussion to our days. Mom and I were both chowing down on breast meat while Dad enjoyed a thigh. Midway through conversation, I asked Dad how it was, and he paused.
Um, it tastes kind of fishy.
Fishy? How? The breast meat tasted just fine to Mom and me.
It tastes like fish! Smells like fish!
Let me try. Dad was obviously confused.
After that we spent a half hour googling “why does my chicken taste like fish” and asking our Amazon Alexa if we could die from chicken poisoning. For some reason, the chicken thighs and drumsticks smelled and tasted rancid while the breasts tasted just fine. Yahoo answers and various forums proved unhelpful, so if anyone has an explanation I’d be happy to hear. We threw out the entire chicken, then threw the garbage bag out, and with it the 25+ hours that went in to cooking that damn bird.
This happens. Dinners get ruined. Now I’m the one telling you while you read this and probably think it will still never happen to you. What most people don’t tell you is what to do after it happens. What do you do when it’s 7:30pm on a Tuesday night and the main course has just been thrown out of the house?
Salad to the rescue. Greens can be dinner, as long as you add nuts, cheese, and grains. These three elements make a salad substantial and special enough to morph into a main course. Originally, my sides for the chicken were roasted butternut squash and a simple arugula salad with parmesan. I combined those two things together, swapped out the parmesan for feta, whipped up some quinoa while Mom toasted pecans, and shook up an easy balsamic vinaigrette. The salad turned out to be more flavorful, textured, and exciting than any roast chicken. It was ridiculously filling, too. We ate from small mixing bowls filled to the brim while Dad talked about a new ZZ Top tune he’s working on. He even went in for seconds, but was too full to finish.
Arugula Salad with Butternut Squash, Pecans, Feta and Quinoa
What you need
- 1 butternut squash
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup feta
- 5 cups arugula
- balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)
What you do
-Preheat oven to 425. Peel and cube butternut squash, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 for 20 minutes. Increase heat to 450 and roast 15 minutes more. I find that the last part helps crisp up the edges of the squash a bit, but this cooking time/oven temp will vary depending on how hot your oven is and how big your squash is, so just keep an eye on it and roast as much as you’d like. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on sheet pan before adding to salad or you’ll wilt the arugula. You probably won’t use all the squash for the salad.
-Toast pecans on a skillet over low heat, tossing occasionally, about ten minutes. Allow to cool slightly, roughly chop.
-Cook quinoa according to package directions. Usually, it’s one cup dry quinoa for two cups water, cooked together for 15-20 minutes. Use about 1 cup of the cooked quinoa for the salad.
-Break up as much feta as you want with a fork, I think I used about 1/2 cup but use as much as you like.
-Make dressing: add 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper to a mason jar and shake it all up. Taste, adjust.
-Toss arugula with feta, nuts, butternut squash, quinoa, and serve. Let everyone pour their own dressing. Salad to the rescue!