I first came across a Waldorf salad probably in the way most people of my generation did, not by eating it but through the much loved BBC comedy series of Fawlty Towers. (I couldn’t find the original clip but only a ‘Waldorf Salad remix’) This classic episode features a brash American couple that come to stay and arrive late as the hotel kitchen is about to close. Upon discovering this, Mr Hamilton, the short-tempered guest offers Basil £20 to keep the chef on for a bit longer. The American first confuses Basil Fawlty by asking for a couple of Screwdrivers – a drink Basil has never heard of and then proceeds to order something else not on the menu; a Waldorf salad. When Basil is confused and annoyed for a second time, the frustrated and demanding American lists all the components of the salad; “Celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, topped with mayonnaise.” The list had to be repeated angrily several more times for Basil to get it right and as was the norm with Fawlty Towers, total rip-roaring hilarity and chaos ensued with the plot getting more and more convoluted with Basil getting increasingly worked up. Ah, fond memories…
I’ve made versions of a Waldorf salad many times but last night had a flash of inspiration to incorporate some of those flavours into a simple chicken risotto. The risotto came about because, as I’d already made some lamb stock from butcher’s bones the day before, (which was now tucked away in the fridge) I realised I needed to use up the chicken stock I’d made that day out of the whole chicken we’d eaten the previous night…sounds confusing but I had made two stocks and didn’t want to keep both. There is no better way to utilise an amount of stock than in a risotto. Well, unless you’re making a soup or a biryani or a paella or a…etc. etc.
This combination of flavours and textures in this risotto worked surprisingly well and much better than expected. I didn’t include apples as such, but cooked the dish with a dry Normandy cider for that ‘applely’ nuance. I caramelised some celery with the onion before adding the rice and left some raw as a rather satisfying crunchy topping together with the walnuts and parmesan shavings. The grapes didn’t get a look in but then again I don’t think I’d include them in a regular salad either.
INGREDIENTS (4 persons)
a big glug of EV olive oil
1 large onion – chopped
2 sticks of celery – chopped finely
large handful of leftover cooked chicken – picked from the bones or elsewhere
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
a good, big pinch or grind of the pepper mill.
2 large cloves of Garlic – finely chopped or sliced
300ml arborio rice or similar
300ml dry cider
500ml chicken stock
extra simmering water, if necessary
salt – to taste
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
a lump of butter – around 50g…slightly less maybe.
a handful of walnuts – semi crushed
a stick if celery – finely chopped or sliced
EV olive oil
parmesan shavings – to taste
extra salt and pepper
- In a heavy pan, slowly caramelise the onions and celery in the olive oil until soft and translucent.
- Add the chicken, chilli flakes, pepper and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add the rice and cook for a minute or two covering each grain and mixing well
- Add the cider and turn up to medium heat, continuing to stir the rice
- Once the the cider has been absorbed/evaporated, add the stock a ladle at a time, whilst continuing to stir the risotto
- Turn the heat down if necessary to keep the dish at simmering temperature.
- Stir the risotto every 20-30 seconds and keep adding stock or hot water as it needs it.
- Once the rice is ‘al dente’ – with each grain cooked and creamy on the outside but still retaining a bite within, turn off the heat, add the butter and season to taste.
- Stir in the butter and cover for 5 minutes and just leave it
- The risotto will be lovely and creamy by the time you dish it out.
- Plate up, topping the rice with the celery, the broken walnuts, a good drizzle of olive oil, the parmesan shavings and extra salt and pepper.
ps. I also had some roasted squash that was sliced and added to the topping – very nice. (don’t bother roasting 1/4 of a squash for this but add if you have some leftover from a previous meal – on second thoughts, it may be worth it.)