In a tirade again salads in general, a counterpoint was put forth and Chinese chicken salad was named a “good salad”. Curiously, I had never heard of it before. Veggies are cooked in Asia and, except as garnish, hardly ever served raw. I searched Google for photos and information and, as I expected, Chinese chicken salad isn’t a dish that originated in China.
So, where did Chinese chicken salad come from? America. The inventor, exact year and place are all subjects of debate though. One claim says it was Madame Wu of Madame Wu’s Garden in California who first made it at the request of actor Cary Grant. Another theory says it was Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck who created the Asian fusion salad. A third theory points to Cecilia Chang (of The Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco) although her concoction was originally called Mandarin chicken salad.
But how can something so American be called Chinese? Well, why are layered chocolate desserts called chocolate lasagna when there is no lasagne noodle in them? It’s marketing. People who can’t tell the difference between Korean and Chinese food won’t care why an American salad is misleadingly preceded by the descriptive word “Chinese” so long as it tastes good. And, yes, I have to admit that Chinese chicken salad tastes terrifically good. Full of crunch, bursting with contrasting flavors, bright with citrusy tones and, most importantly, it isn’t vegan.
And the best thing about Chinese chicken salad? You can play around with the ingredients. Because there is no “authentic standard”, every component can be approached in a variety of ways. The lettuce can be iceberg or romaine. The chicken can be poached, grilled or roasted. The crunchy factor can be fried strips of wonton wrapper or noodles, or even both. The nuts can be cashew, almonds or peanuts. The dressing can be peanut butter-based or soy sauce-based. So much elbow room, really. But this is how I like my Chinese chicken salad.
Chinese Chicken Salad
For the dressing:
- thinly sliced scallions
- torn mint leaves
- Pat the chicken thigh fillets dry with paper towels. Season with salt, pepper, grated ginger and sugar. Mix well.
- Grill the chicken fillets, about four minutes per side. Set aside and cool. Cut into strips about half an inch wide.
- Break the noodles into four to six pieces. In a small pan, boil the noodles in water until tender. Drain. Dump in a bowl of iced water. Stir gently until cool. Drain well.
- In an oil-free frying pan, toast the cashew nuts. Scoop out and set aside.
- In the same pan, toast the sesame seeds. Dump on a small plate and set aside.
- Heat the cooking oil in the frying pan until fine wisps of smoke float on the surface. Spread the drained noodles in the hot oil and cook until crisp. Scoop out and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
- Rinse the lettuce, tear or slice into bite-size pieces and dry in a salad spinner.
- Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the lettuce, fried noodles and chicken. Drizzle in about a tablespoon of dressing. Toss lightly. Add the Mandarin orange segments and cashew nuts. Toss again.
- Divide the Chinese chicken salad among bowls. Sprinkle with scallions, mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds. Drizzle in a little dressing. Serve with more dressing on the side.