Updated: September 9, 2012 6:06AM
Peach season hits local farmers markets every summer with the intensity of a late-night August thunderstorm, and the Michigan fruit vendors at the Chicago Daley Plaza farmers market demonstrate that very gusto every Thursday.
Stationed amid tamale tents and pastry peddlers, the Michigan farmers display their pink beauties at the fronts of their booths, overlaying their other produce for the few short weeks their peaches rule the roost.
As passers-by walk through the crammed sections of the market, the vendors vie for their attention, calling out prices per pound — $6 per basket is the norm — so it comes down to a matter of taste.
As one woman at one booth slices through a ripe peach and holds up a half to show the crowd its sugary juice drip quickly down her arm, a boy of about 12 runs from across the way fumbling with a bowl brimming with cubed peaches and a set of salad tongs and forces a piece into the hands of each pedestrian. The two exchange scowls at first and then a familiar nod.
To the unknowing patron, their friendly competition stems from them becoming acquainted with each other at daily farmers markets across Indiana and the Chicago area.
Although pricey, the peaches at these farmers markets are hard to pass up.
The flavor of Michigan peaches at the peak of the season is something that many wait all summer for. Sweet and syrupy, they certainly make desserts taste divine, but they also add a certain something to savory dishes.
Just three blocks away from the Daley Plaza farmers market, Macy’s Walnut Room boasts one of Chicago’s most hidden menu delights: the peach basket. A tasty combo of salty and sweet, this original Marshall Field’s recipe for a chicken salad sandwich takes the crunch of almonds and shoestring potatoes and combines it with the sweetness of fruit and zucchini bread for an interesting and delicious rendition of an American classic.
The traditional plated form of the dish is sort of a deconstructed sandwich. Triangles of zucchini bread, sliced peaches and a cup of strawberry cream cheese line the outer edges of the plate while a billowing pillow of crispy shoestring potatoes house a heap of almond chicken salad smack in the center.
The meal can be eaten in little portions as is, or — even better — assembled into a mighty sandwich that combines all of the flavors into one spectacular assemblage.
After years of noshing on this light lunch, it seems only practical to me that the peaches be intermixed directly into the chicken salad — much like grapes are in a traditional chicken salad, but Walnut Room chefs have already foreseen this idea and perfected it.
Sliced peaches don’t hold up the same way grapes might. The liquid separates making for a very messy meal. But sliced peaches placed on top of the salad immediately before eating holds up the divine flavor without all of the tumult.
Although the Walnut Room’s poached white meat chicken salad itself is a marvelous recipe (you’ll never go back to roasted chicken salad), the recipe below for an open-face sandwich does take up the peach basket just a notch with the substitute of fresh Michigan peaches for canned peaches.
The result is a much fresher, seasonal flavor which just so happens to give you bragging rights for your recent farmers market purchase.
21/2 pouncs boneless skinless
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped grapes
11/4 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
Prepared zucchini bread
Whipped strawberry cream cheese (homemade or prepared)
2 fresh peaches, diced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Season chicken with salt and pepper and arrange on sheet. Pour about 1/4 inch of water around the chicken and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cooked through. Do not over-poach. Remove foil and allow chicken to cool in the liquid. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, celery, grapes, mayonnaise, lemon juice,Worcestershire sauce and almonds. Season with salt and pepper.
To assemble open-face sandwiches, arrange slices of zucchini bread on a plate. Spread whipped strawberry cream cheese over tops of each slice, top with a small mound of shoestring potatoes and a large scoop of chicken salad. Top with a tablespoon of diced peaches.
Serves 4 to 6.
For the shoestring potatoes, julienne a half pound of russet potatoes with a mandoline. Rinse in cold water; pat dry with a paper towel. Heat 2 inches of peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to 350 degrees. Fry potatoes in batches for 2-4 minutes or until golden and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt and pepper; use immediately.
Adapted from Peach Basket-Salad
and Shoestring Potatoes in “The Marshall Field’s Cookbook” by Steve Siegelman, Book Kitchen, San Francisco