Chinese Chicken Salad

by Anne Bennett on May 29, 2010

Chinese Chicken Salad has become almost as common on restaurant menus as the ubiquitous hamburger. Speaking of which, Wendy’s even has their own version; it’s one of their “Garden Sensation Salads”, and they boast that it’s “unforgettable”.  (How many euphemisms can you count?)

Since Chinese Chicken Salad is an American culinary invention (The Chinese don’t eat salads like we do. They eat white rice too, and they aren’t nearly as fat. Has anyone done a study on this paradox?), I think it’s fair to lay a few ground rules for its preparation.

Rule One: It should not contain everything but the kitchen sink. Rule Two: it should be fresh, crispy and refreshing, anything but what we usually get from restaurant fare. And Rule Three: it shouldn’t be laden in oily, overly sweet dressing. After all, by its very nature it should be healthy.

This salad, an adaption from Cooks Illustrated, fits the bill exactly. There aren’t many ingredients (you can add the mandarin oranges, a la Wendy’s, if you wish), thus it retains it’s unique flavor. Resist the temptation to add too many extras. They only serve to muddle the overall taste and texture of what should be a delightful summer salad.

chinese-chicken-salad

3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 t. vegetable oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar (unseasoned is better here)*
3 T. hoisin sauce
1 1/2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. grated fresh ginger
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 medium head napa cabbage, sliced thin crosswise
1 cup bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 T. minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup chow mein noodles**

Pat chicken breasts dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat 1 t. oil in a nonstick skillet and add chicken. Cook until browned on one side. Turn over, add 1/2 cup water, cover and simmer another 5 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the plastic and refrigerate chicken while preparing the other ingredients. When chicken is cool, shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Combine the rice vinegar, the remaining 3 t. oil, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ginger together in a bowl.

Toss together the chicken, shredded carrot, cabbage, sprouts, bell pepper, green onions and cilantro in a large salad bowl. Shake the dressing to combine and pour over the salad. I didn’t use all of the dressing but brought it to the table to add to individual servings.

Sprinkle with chow mein noodles and serve.

*Seasoned rice vinegar is the most widely available Asian vinegar and is sold in the Asian section of most supermarkets. It’s sweeter than unseasoned rice vinegar. If you can find it, get the unseasoned version for this vinaigrette. I found the seasoned vinegar to be a bit too sweet, although it may suit your tastes.

** Chow mein noodles can be found in the Asian section of most large supermarkets. La Choy is the most visible and popular brand.

Champ suggested the addition of a few peanuts, which we tried and found delightful. Don’t overdo, though. Again, you don’t want to be biting down on the proverbial kitchen sink.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tim Thomas August 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Anne, still waiting on the pizza reciepes or did I miss them

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