There might be a riot if there was not a Chinese chicken salad in the Weeknight Cooking book; it is that popular a salad. Chicken salads on the whole are immensely popular, but this dish tops them all since it combines sweet, crunchy, spicy, cold, and sour all in one.
Most recipes call for cooking rice noodles in hot oil. No way am I interested in that messy job, even for a few minutes, on a weeknight. Hence, enter the crispy chow mein noodles, which are delicious for snacking right out of the can.
Fast forward to one day I am shopping in the produce department and this young man from the fire department is next to me, obviously struggling in the Asian vegetable department. His indecision is obvious. I asked him what he was looking for and he replied cilantro; he was holding a bunch of watercress, which is an experience many of us have had at one time or another. I showed him the cilantro and then the conversation struck up that he was a San Francisco fireman, shopping near home in the South Bay, for it was his night to cook at the station. He told me about his chicken salad and that the firemen even published a cookbook for raising money to support surviving families of firefighters lost in the line of duty.
Well here is a variation of the recipe he told me about. I adore the dressing, which is a mild creamy cilantro with sesame oil and ginger instead of the same old same old. Anything with lime and cilantro, and count me in. The unique item is how to poach the chicken, which you do right before you toss the salad; it is in a bath of soy sauce.
- Poached Chicken
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (About 1-pound)
- 3 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari (wheat-free) or soy sauce
- Water, to cover
- Creamy Cilantro Dressing
- 1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, cut into a few pieces
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 1 cup mayonnaise or soy mayonnaise (Veganaise)
- 3 tablespoons plain rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
- Juice of 1 small lime
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Few drops hot pepper sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
- 1/4 head Napa cabbage, chopped (about 2 loose cups)
- 1 (5-ounce) can chow mein noodles
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1/2 English cucumber, cut into 2 inch hunks and cut into strips
- 3 green onions, white and few inches of the green, chopped
In a medium saucepan, place the chicken, soy sauce, and water just to cover. Bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Cover and remove from the heat. Let stand 30 minutes while you make the dressing and assemble salad ingredients.
In a food processor, drop in the ginger and chop. Then add the cilantro and pulse to chop. Add the mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, lime juice, sugar, and hot pepper sauce. Process until smooth. Set aside in a small bowl.
Place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet and toast until golden, shaking the pan a few times to even toast them, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
In a shallow bowl, toss together the lettuce, cabbage, chow mein noodles, carrots, cucumbers, green onions, and sesame seeds. Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and shred into bite-sized pieces. Toss the chicken with the lettuce mixture. Either toss with the dressing or place the dressing on the table and let people drizzle over their salad (this is the way I do it). Serve immediately with some pot stickers and hot steamed rice, if you like, although this is a filling salad on its own. Chopsticks optional.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2008, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.