Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad
Two of my favorites—History and Food. They both meet in this delicious recipe for Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad.
This salad seems to be everywhere, with my favorite version being the one on the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. Since a trip to St. Louis or Indy to eat at The Cheesecake Factory is not a quick trip, I was determined to create something close, and got a culinary history lesson in the process.
First, Asian Chicken Salad is not authentically Chinese. Surprise! And after finding so many variations of this delicious salad, I started wondering who was first to create the crunchy Asian chicken salad.
Origins of Asian Chicken Salad
Food historians see California as the state claiming the birth of the Chinese Chicken Salad.
Cecilia Chiang, one of America’s first female Chinese restaurant entrepreneurs, offers her take on the famous salad. As she writes in her book, The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco, “Truly, there is no ‘real’ Chinese chicken salad. In China, lettuce was imported and rare and salads were things that were pickled.”
Just as a side note FYI, Cecilia’s son, Philip Chiang, is the co-founder of the PF Chang restaurant chain, which happens to be the home of the best Lettuce Wraps ever!
San Francisco vs LA
Everyone seems to agree that California is where the Chinese Chicken Salad began. But from there, the details are a little sketchy.
Some say Cecilia Chiang created a Chinese Chicken Salad for The Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco. Cecilia Chang based her salad off the 1960s low-calorie craze of iceberg lettuce. She created her Chinese Chicken Salad as a way of using up all extra iceberg lettuce her patrons were eating during that era.
Then there’s the LA story. A version of a Crunchy Chinese Chicken Salad was created by Madam (Sylvia) Wu, founder of Madam’s Wu’s Garden. Legend has it that friend and classic film star, Cary Grant, suggested she come up with a version for her celebrity clients. She obliged, and her guests couldn’t get enough of her take on this crunchy iceberg lettuce-based salad.
Kardashians Keep it Going
Now enter the Kardashians.
Trendsetter celebrities Kim and Khloe Kardashian apparently name the Chinese Chicken Salad from San Fernando Valley’s Health Nut restaurant as one of their favorite lunch salads. Khloe even adds some California avocado to her salad. What a great idea!
Which version is best?
Varying from place to place, chinese chicken salad all seem to share some common ground. They all have that all-important element of CRUNCH and they all have sweetness and a delicious “Asian-style” vinaigrette for that perfect umami flavor.
My version is slightly healthier than most. It has a little less sodium, a little less fat, but it’s still loaded with flavor and crunch.
Thank you Cheesecake Factory and Kardashians for continuing to keep Crunchy Chinese Chicken Salad popular.
Asian Chicken Salad
- 1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon sriracha or sambal oelek
- 1-2 teaspoons Chinese hot mustard (see recipe below)
- 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 cooked chicken, shredded
- 1/2 cup fried wonton strips
- 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Chinese Hot Mustard
- 3 teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 3 teaspoons cold water
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 won ton strips and sesame seeds.
- ADD dressing and TOSS to coat salad evenly.
Chinese Hot Mustard
- COMBINE with dry mustard powder with water.
- Let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
- To make larger amounts, just keep the mustard powder to water ratio the same.