This is one of my warm-weather favorites, my personal contribution to the American phenomenon known as Chinese chicken salad. It is a dish of contrasts. The blond chicken is rich with master sauce, the orange carrots sparkle with vinegar, and the gold tea melon is chewy and satisfyingly sweet. For a summer meal, it is perfect.
Rinse the breasts under cold water, remove any bloody clots, then put aside to drain. Put the master sauce in a heavy pot that will hold the breasts snugly in one layer and bring to a boil over moderate heat. If you do not have enough sauce to come ¾ of the way up the chicken, then replenish as directed. Slip the chicken skin side down into the hot liquid, then baste it well while the sauce returns to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pot, and simmer 20 minutes. Check the simmer and baste the chicken every 5–10 minutes. Turn once, after 10 minutes.
Remove the pot to a cool burner, turn the chicken again skin side down, then let it steep in the covered pot 1½–2½ hours, basting frequently. The longer the chicken steeps, the richer the flavor. Remove the chicken from the sauce, put it aside to cool, then strain the sauce to remove any impurities. Both the chicken and sauce may be sealed separately and refrigerated up to a full day before proceeding.
Remove the chicken skin in one piece and trim the fatty edges and underside to make a neat rectangle of uniform thinness. Cut the skin into long, thin slivers, enough to yield about ⅔ cup. Remove the meat from the bone in one piece, then gently separate the fillets and discard any membranes, tendons, or fat. Shred the meat lengthwise and with the grain by hand into thin strips about 2 inches long and pencil width. Toss the chicken lightly with 3 tablespoons sauce to moisten, then toss again with 2–3 tablespoons more sauce, enough to flavor the chicken richly without making it soupy. Combine the chicken with some or all of the julienned skin. It imparts a delicious silkiness. If you are working in advance, the sauced chicken may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.
Shred the carrots in a food processor or by hand. Toss them thoroughly with the sesame oil, rubbing with your hands to distribute the oil among the shreds. Toss again lightly with rice vinegar to taste. The carrots should be slightly sharp, to balance the richness of the chicken.
Julienne the tea melon into long, thin threads ⅛ inch thick. Cover with syrup until ready to use. The carrots and tea melon may be sealed separately and refrigerated overnight. Before serving, toss the carrots to redistribute the seasonings and drain off any excess liquid.
Just before serving, arrange the carrots in a wide, full ring around a serving platter of contrasting color. Mound the chicken in the center, then scatter the tea melon decoratively on top. Drizzle on ¼–½ teaspoon syrup if you have a sweet tooth, and garnish with sprigs of fresh coriander, if you like.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Present the salad colorfully intact, then toss at the table or invite each guest to choose and toss their own portion.
Leftovers keep 1–2 days, refrigerated.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.