Southwestern Fried Chicken Salad

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Just add a wedge of warm corn bread and thick slices of cold watermelon or blueberry pie for a summer feast. The chicken can be marinated overnight in the refrigerator, and then cooked the next day. The greens can be washed and drained the day before, then refrigerated to become nice and crisp.

 Serves 8 to 10

1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch strips
1 cup safflower or canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned
4 plum tomatoes, cored and diced
Juice of 3 limes
⅓ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 ripe avocado
8 ounces mesclun salad greens, washed and drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Mix the buttermilk and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and let stand a minimum of 15 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Heat the safflower oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, 365 to 375 degrees.

3. Combine the flour, cornmeal, paprika, and salt in a large bowl. Dip the chicken in the flour mixture, shake off the excess flour, and place in the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will “steam” instead of fry.

4. Fry the chicken, uncovered, in batches, for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. (Note: You may need to increase the heat when the chicken is added, which may reduce the temperature of the oil. If the chicken is browning too fast, lower the heat.) Drain the chicken on paper towels and cool slightly.

5. Mix the red bell pepper, tomatoes, lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, cumin, and chili powder in a large bowl and set aside.

6. Just before serving, peel and pit the avocado and cut into ½-inch slices.

7. Place the greens on a platter and top with the fried chicken, tomato mixture, and avocado. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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