Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chinese Chicken Salad

This salad was a special treat in our house when I was growing up, in part because we called it "Grandma's Chinese Chicken Salad" and in part because our parents rarely made it. The latter was, in turn, probably because it's a bit of a time sink (not to mention messy) to fry all the rice sticks and wontons. If you can do without those, though, it's actually quite easy once you have the chicken roasted and ready to go. The recipe owes a debt to my paternal grandmother, who introduced us to the recipe and made some modifications. The original recipe comes from an excellent book by Hugh Carpenter called Pacific Flavors. It's out of print, but isn't too hard to find. Caution: you will need a very large bowl for mixing all of this together--it's quite a large salad.

Chinese Chicken Salad
Serves 12 as an appetizer, 6 to 8 as a dinner salad

3 pounds roasted or barbequed chicken, skin and bones discarded and meat shredded
1 12-ounce bunch spinach or Napa cabbage, stemmed and (in the case of the cabbage) chopped
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 large bell pepper, seeded and slivered
1 large handful snow peas, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
10 won ton skins, cut into 1/4" strips
2 ounces rice sticks, pulled apart into small bundles
peanut oil for frying
3/4 cup thinly sliced pickled ginger

For dressing:
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon juice from pickled ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced green onions
1 tablespoon finely minced or grated fresh ginger

Heat a wok or very large skillet over medium-high heat, pour in 1/2 inch of oil, and heat until a thread of won ton bounces across the surface. Cook about one third of the won tons at a time, scattering them across the surface. As soon as they turn a very light golden, in about 1 minute, remove to paper towels and drain.

Test oil temperature for cooking rice sticks: when placed in oil, the end of a rice stick should puff up immediately. When ready, add a small number of rice sticks and push apart with chopsticks. As soon as they expand, about 5 seconds, turn them over with chopsticks or tongs and push back into the hot oil to cook 5 seconds more. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining rice sticks, being sure to regulate the heat so oil never smokes. Place won ton strips and rice sticks together in paper bag and store at room temperature. 

Combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously, or whisk together in a bowl. Steps up to this point can be completed 5 hours ahead of time.  

Place all salad ingredients except won ton strips and rice sticks in a very large bowl. Shake/whisk dressing and add, tossing immediately. Gently fold in won ton strips and rice sticks, being careful not to crush them. Serve at once. 


Brave Sir Robin said...

I love this kind of stuff. Have you ever made it with purchased rotisserie chicken?

Bee said...

I hate frying, but I might have to make an exception for this. It sounds great.

My mom used to make a similar thing, but she always added little mandarin orange segments, too.

Do you prefer it with spinach or cabbage? I feel like I would want the crunch, personally.

Anne said...

BSR - I've never done it with purchased chicken (I think I've purchased a pre-rotisseried/roasted chicken exactly once in my life), but I'm sure you could if you wanted to make the prep weeknight-friendly. Do you have a good source for rotisserie chicken?

Bee - frying is such a pain, isn't it? And it's not like it's any good for you, either. A pain in the neck + unhealthy = I can't really be bothered. I do suggest that you try the recipe at some point in all its fried-item-adorned glory, but it's still very good without the fried bits.

I bet it would be great with mandarin orange segments!

I've never used spinach for this salad. It seems to me that baby spinach, at least, would be a little overwhelmed and get crushed by all the other things in the salad. Chinese/Napa cabbage is a bit springier and stands up to the other ingredients well.