Although I write a blog on Chinese cooking, every once in a while I get a craving for concoctions that are a far cry from what anyone in China would actually eat.
Take Mandarin Chicken Salad, for example, also called “Asian Chicken Salad”, “Chinese Chicken Salad”, or the very archaic “Oriental Chicken Salad”. (Note to Applebee’s: hire a menu consultant from the 21st century.) For one thing, the Chinese think of eating raw lettuce as barbaric. But whoever thought of this hodgepodge of ingredients also had a brilliant marketing mind.
The idea of such a salad was probably born out of Californian Pan-Asian cuisine in the 1980s (some say from Wolfgang Puck’s kitchen), when it was cool to be fit and just a little bit worldly. You take a bunch of romaine, mix it with cold chicken breast, some type of orange, add a soy-ginger-peanut-buttery dressing, and top it off with crunchy La Choy chow mein noodles or something similar. Just healthy enough, just exotic enough. The soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger are the only things Asian about such a salad, but the names seemed to have stuck.
As much as it annoys me that fast food chains like P.F. Chang’s and Chilis exaggerate the asianness of their chicken salads, it is pretty hard to resist the blending of flavors and textures. I make my sauce with cider vinaigrette, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, and peanut butter. The result is a satisfying mix of savory, sweet, and tart flavors. You can use leftover chicken breast, but dark meat with skin on makes the salad a bit more decadent. I like to toss in tangerines for sweetness, but you can also use orange segments if you prefer tart. Adding dry roasted peanuts and crispy wontons/noodles is a nice finishing touch.
As La Choy’s website would say, “Add some Asian Flair to your summer.”
Mandarin Chicken Salad
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast or thighs (skin optional)
8 ounces romaine lettuce
3 to 4 clementine oranges
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup crispy chow mein or crispy wonton toppings
For the dressing:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
Up to 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Peel the clementines, separate into segments, and remove the white membranes.
2. Roughly chop the peanuts, either in a food processor or with your knife.
3. Toss together the shredded chicken, romaine, segmented clementines, shredded carrots, and peanuts.
3. Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing until smooth. Drizzle the saland dressing on top of the salad. Garnish crispy chow mein or wonton toppings.
More salad recipes to try: