For those of you who live in Southern California and have occasion to dine in Pasadena, you know that Green Street Restaurant is one of the long-time favorites for great salads and sandwiches. For those unfamiliar, Green Street is quite famous for their Dianne Salad, and it goes without saying that it’s probably one of the most requested items on their menu. It’s a very tasty green salad (the portions are huge) with chunks of perfectly cooked chicken, toasted slivered almonds, bean thread noodles and an amazing sweet poppy seed dressing. It’s hard to describe how addicting this salad is, but I’m fairly certain that it’s the interplay between that yummy dressing and those toasted almonds that makes it so irresistible.
They sell their dressing at the restaurant, but the recipe is a closely guarded secret. There are a few published attempts on the internet to duplicate it, but the restaurant is quick to dispel those as lame.
I make no claims here to have duplicated their recipe, but I do think that I've come up with something that is not only close, but perhaps even a little better (more about that later when we get to the dressing).
There are a few things that must take place to make this salad perfect…and we are going for perfection here. The lettuce must be fresh and crisp (they use iceberg, but I like romaine), the chicken must be tender and flavorful, the almonds must be perfectly toasted and the bean thread noodles, well they must be fried (oh dear). Then there’s the dressing, but we’ll get to that.
Let’s talk about the chicken. It’s so easy to overcook chicken breasts and create dry, chewy chunks of tasteless protein. So let’s stop doing that, OK? Let’s make moist, flavorful, tender bites of chicken that actually make you want to eat them. It’s not hard, really. Here are my 3 steps to perfectly cooked chicken breasts that you can use for any recipe calling for previously cooked chicken breast meat.
1. Brine. Yes, you must brine, and it’s so easy. Just get a large bowl and pour in 6 cups of water (for 3 or 4 breasts). Add 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Whisk until the salt and sugar are dissolved and then add the chicken breasts. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Then remove the chicken and pat dry. Now it’s ready to cook.
2. Spray a 10” skillet with Pam and heat to medium. Spray the tops of the chicken breasts with Pam and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Lay them salted side down in the pan. Spray the tops and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
3. Cook over medium heat on the first side for about 4 or 5 minutes and then turn them. Cook another 3 or 4 minutes and then cover the pan, remove from the heat and just let them sit covered for 20 minutes. The residual heat will continue to cook them oh so gently and you will have a moist, tender chicken breast.
That’s it. Once cooled, you can chop, dice or slice. Perfect every time.
Now let’s talk about those noodles...
If you’ve never worked with bean thread noodles or rice noodles before (also called cellophane or glass noodles), fear not. Very cinchy. The hardest part is just getting the noodles apart. I just pull on a few strands at a time and use scissors to cut off pieces about 2 or 3 inches long. You don’t need more than a small handful or so as they really puff and expand when you cook them. So just get your oil good and hot and drop the noodles – a few at a time- into the hot oil. As soon as they puff up (which happens immediately), they’re ready to remove to a paper towel-lined pan. I use tongs for this.
Now we’ve got everything ready except the almonds. I’m sure you’ve toasted almonds before, but these have to be really toasty and flavorful without burning. So heat your skillet to medium or medium high and when your almonds start to get some color on them, start moving them around. I use a spatula to flip them over until they’re all uniformly toasty brown. Then pull them off the heat and place in a bowl to cool.
All that’s left is to make the dressing (recipe follows) and assemble the salad. No great tricks there. Just combine all your salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix with the dressing. Make sure you have plenty of dressing coating your lettuce. I suppose the art of this salad is getting enough dressing on it without overdoing it. Sogginess is not a good salad attribute.
Oh, a note about the dressing….if you’re reading this, Green Street chefs, I’m pretty sure that you have used copious amounts of guar or xanthum gum to thicken your dressing. But it’s totally unnecessary. I love this salad and am so grateful to Dianne for inventing it, but honestly, the dressing doesn’t need thickening. Try this! You might agree.
So there is the saga of the Dianne Salad. Now, you too, can enjoy it in the privacy of your own home. You’re welcome.
This is my version of the famous Dianne Salad served at Green St. Restaurant in Pasadena, Ca. In order to maximize the flavor, I like to brine the chicken before cooking it, but it's an optional step that you can eliminate if you're in a hurry. And who isn't when you're about to eat a Diane Salad!
Note (8-2-2016): I make this salad often and it continues to be one of our very favorite meals. I've recently made a couple of changes that I think are worth noting. Instead of the bean thread noodles, I've started cutting won ton wrappers into very thin strips, spraying them with cooking spray and baking them until they're brown and crisp. They're a wonderful substitution if you don't want to fry up the noodles. Also, I've been subbing out chia seeds for the poppy seeds in the dressing and we love it. You still get the little poppy seed crunch, but if you let the dressing sit for a bit, the chia seeds will thicken the dressing, making it a little more like the original. Enjoy!
Serves 2 or 3
Lots of crisp lettuce (chopped iceberg or romaine)
3 or 4 chicken breasts
1 cup of toasted almond slivers
½ cup of Chinese bean thread or rice noodles
Brine the Chicken breasts:
Mix 6 cups of cold water with 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Place the chicken breasts in the brine, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Pat dry.
Season each breast with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes per side. Cover, remove from the heat and let sit for 20 minutes. Cut into ½ inch chunks and refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad. This can be done the day before.
Heat about 2 cups of oil in an 8” or 10” skillet until very hot. Drop a few of the bean thread noodles into the hot oil and as soon as the puff up, remove to a paper towel with tongs.
Dianne Salad dressing:
1/3 c canola oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T poppy seeds (or chia seeds)
Combine the dressing ingredients (preferably in a jar so you can shake to mix), and set aside until ready to dress the salad.
Combine the romaine lettuce, almonds, chicken and noodles. Pour enough of the dressing onto the salad to coat it well without over-soaking it. The dressing that you may have left over will keep for a few weeks in a cool, dark place.