Two of my favorites—History and Food—And they both meet in this recipe for Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad.
But guess what? Our beloved crunchy Asian salad is not authentically Chinese. Surprise!
So where did that crunchy Asian chicken salad that seems to be on ever restaurant menu come from? Food historians see California as the origins of Chinese Chicken Salad.
In her book, The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco, Cecilia Chang, one of the very first female Chinese restaurant entrepreneurs, writes “Truly, there is no ‘real’ Chinese chicken salad. In China, lettuce was imported and rare and salads were things that were pickled.” By the way, Cecilia’s son, Philip, is the co-founder of the PF Chang restaurant chain (Oh how I love their lettuce wraps).
As to who created it? The details of that are a little sketchy.
Some say the salad was created by Cecilia Chiang for The Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco. Cecilia Chang based her salad off the 1960s low-calorie craze of iceberg lettuce and created her Chinese Chicken Salad as a way to use up extra iceberg lettuce.
Not to be left out, there’s also an LA version of the much-loved Chinese Chicken Salad. This one was created by Madam (Sylvia) Wu. Legend has it that friend and classic film star, Cary Grant, suggested she come up with a version for her celebrity clients who frequented her restaurant, Madam Wu’s Garden. They couldn’t get enough of her take on this crunchy iceberg lettuce-based salad.
And now modern-day Kardashians are reminding us how delicious a crunchy Chinese chicken salad is. Kim and Kloe Kardashian apparently name the Chinese Chicken Salad from San Fernando Valley’s Health Nut restaurant as one of their favorite lunch salads. Kloe even adds some California avocado to her salad. I’ll be trying that myself soon.
Although recipes vary, a Chinese chicken salad pretty much anywhere share some common ground. They all have that all-important element of CRUNCH along with sweetness and a delicious “Asian-style” vinaigrette for that perfect umami flavor.
My version is a slightly healthier than some you’d find on your favorite restaurant menu. It has a little less sodium and a little less fat than those found on today‘s restaurant menus, but it’s still loaded with flavor and crunch. Thank you Cheesecake Factory and Kardashians for continuing to keep this one popular.
Asian Chicken Salad
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon siracha or sambal oelek
1-2 teaspoons Chinese hot mustard (see notes)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil of choice
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
6 cups romaine lettuce, torn into small pieces
1-2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 large carrot, shredded
2 green onions, both green and white parts, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges in water, drained
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup fried wonton strips
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
For the Dressing: In a small bowl, WHISK the vinegar, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, chili garlic sauce and Chinese hot mustard. Gradually, WHISK in the olive oil and sesame oil.
For the Salad: In a large bowl, COMBINE the lettuce, red cabbage, carrot, green onion, almonds, mandarin oranges, shredded chicken, fried wonton strips and sesame seeds. ADD dressing and TOSS to coat salad evenly.
Notes: To make Chinese hot mustard, COMBINE 3 teaspoons dry mustard powder with 3 teaspoons cold water. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes. To make larger amounts, just keep the mustard powder to water ratio the same.