Chinese chicken salad is SO under-represented on the east coast.
I don’t know why that is. Is it because Wolfgang Puck, creator of the world’s finest Chinese chicken salad, focused on the west coast in is heyday? Is it because NYC focuses more on dim sum and miso cod and less on the light food that you need on the incredibly hot, often arid weather on the west coast?
I don’t know and I don’t care.
Bottom line: I need Chinese chicken salad in my life. And here is what that salad needs:
-soft, moist, poached or roasted but certainly not grilled chicken
-cabbage, not lettuce
-a dressing that is a little spicy, a little sweet, and incredibly tart and refreshing.
So what’s a gal to do?
Make it herself, of course.
Chinese Chicken Salad
1 package shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
1 shallot, half in large slices and half in small dices
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Enough wine or beer to barely cover the chicken in a shallow saute pan
1 cup cilantro, cleaned and chopped
1 tsp. chopped ginger
1 clove garlic, diced
pita chips or fried wontons
wasabi and mustard OR hot English/Chinese mustard
rice wine vinegar
1. Put the wine, ginger, garlic, and the sliced part of the shallot in a large, shallow saucepan. Put he chicken breasts in there, too. Set it to medium high until it simmers, then set it to medium low. Cover and check back every 3 minutes until the chicken is poached – you want to take the chicken out when it is still BARELY pink in the very center of the breast. As it cools it will continue to cook. 2. While the chicken cooks, put the scallions, snow peas, and cabbage into a large bowl. 3. Make the dressing. This is a ratio thing, so get ready for it:
2 parts oil: 1 part rice wine vinegar: .5 part hoisin sauce: .25 part hot mustard/mustard and wasabi combo
Everything else is negotiable. You are looking for a dressing that is light, sweet, tart, an only BARELY spicy. Don’t forget to put the diced shallot in there, too.
4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull it with 2 forks. Alternatively, you can make the chicken ahead of time and then pull it and make the salad the following day. 5. Add the chicken, pita or wontons, and dressing to the salad. Make sure that the salad is well dressed – it’s the secret to what makes this so embarrassingly addictive. 6. Serve – if you want, like I did, with super crispy, soy sautéed potstickers
This is what I crave…THIS is the stuff. Light, crispy, juicy, and hearty. A tiny punch of heat and whole lot of sweet and tangy. The slight bitterness of the cabbage plays off of the juicy, ginger infused chicken and the sweet snow peas. Wontons are traditional but all I had were some rather stale pita chips and – lo and behold – it totally worked! The chips soaked up the dressing and managed to stay a little crispy. And oh, that dressing…you could serve this a rubber band and people would clamor over that rubber band. The secret is the hoisin sauce – its sweet, viscous, and umami.
I’m picking up where Wolfgang puck left off - because the East coast deserves its own Chinese chicken salad.