Much like Steve Buscemi, chicken salad has long been typecast. It plays a supporting role in picnics and Sunday brunches, baby showers and corporate catered lunches. Like Buscemi, it gives a solid performance every time.
But Buscemi showed the world he was capable of more than the role of the harmless weirdo/creepy sociopath with his turn in Boardwalk Empire, and chicken salad is equally capable of rising above its status as the meal you eat in front of your computer at work.
Culinarily speaking, chicken salad can pin a red carnation on an expensive three-piece, pin-stripped suit and whoa, daddy: Good-bye Carl Showalter, hello Nucky Thompson.
Seems questionable, right? Chicken salad is the dish you make out of leftovers and condiments. It’s pre-packaged and sold with crackers in gas stations.
But chicken salad is a blank slate, easily dressed up by adding fruits instead of relish, or swapping mayonnaise for Greek yogurt. You can blacken the chicken and add spicy peppers for a punch, or roast the chicken and blend in almonds, strawberry and grapes for a sweet variation. Switch white bread for ciabatta, a multi-grain wheat or sourdough.
For those unconvinced, let Arcana make a believer of you.
Arcana is a new player in Boulder’s food scene, but it’s made itself known in a short amount of time, winning best new restaurant in this year’s Best of Boulder awards, not to mention getting a write-in in multiple categories: best restaurant ambience, American restaurant, dessert, overall restaurant, fine dining and business lunch. Damn, Arcana. Boulder’s been talking about you, which is kind of funny, since arcana is a secret.
According to Merriam-Webster (and who argues with an institution that frequently schools Donald Trump on his abuse of the English language?), the word “arcana” refers to “mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate.”
So, take a lunch break with the work crew and get in on the secret: how to make a fresh take on the chicken salad sandwich.
Arcana starts by making black garlic bread in-house. Black garlic is just regular garlic — white or red — that’s been heated slowly. We’re talking 200-hours slow (there are machines made specifically for this). The end result is a sort of caramelized bulb with black cloves. The process gives the garlic a more complex flavor profile, with the sweetness of molasses and an undercurrent of tangy garlic.
The chicken is prepared in the confit method, which, like making black garlic, is done low and slow. The French developed this method by which meat is covered with oil and then cooked at a low temp, around 200 degrees Fahrenheit or sometimes lower. The result is melt-in-your-mouth meat, whether that’s duck, goose or, in this case, chicken.
Now, the accoutrements: Arcana plays off of the sweet tanginess of the black garlic bread with a tart cherry spread on the chicken salad. They keep the classic celery (things are classics for a reason) for a bit of crunch, and give the whole thing a bit of heat with a touch of smoked Serrano pepper.
Et voila! The Nucky Thompson of chicken salad sandwiches: dapper, dressed up and in charge. Arcana. 909 Walnut St., Boulder,