Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chill with Chinese Chicken Salad!

Tomorrow is the first day of summer and with the heat and humidity rising, it's starting to feel like it! Days like these make me crave a nice cold salad, like "Chinese Chicken Salad." Chinese chicken salad, as we know it in the U.S., is purely an American creation dating back to the 1930's, popularized by the fashionable entertainment industries on the West Coast. In the 1960's, Chinese chicken salad reached iconic status when Sylvia Wu opened Madame Wu's Garden in Santa Monica, California, with celebrity clientele including Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace Kelly, Robert Redford, and Cary Grant, just to name a few! In fact, it was Cary Grant who insisted she put Chinese chicken salad on the menu!

Photo of Cary Grant with Madame Wu.

This excellent recipe, adapted from Bridgehampton Weekends, by Ellen Wright, has all the flavors of a traditional Chinese chicken salad: shredded chicken and iceberg lettuce, sesame oil, ginger, and scallions, all served on a bed of crispy, crunchy, fried rice-stick noodles! (In fact, this recipe is quite similar to Madame Wu's version.) To keep things simple, I use store-bought rotisserie chicken. In addition, remember to assemble the salad just before serving to prevent wilted lettuce and soggy noodles. No one wants soggy noodles!

Chinese Chicken Salad

Serves 4

For the sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 ounces canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger (I use my microplane.)

For the salad
1 store-bought rotisserie chicken, meat shredded into bite-size chunks, skin and bones discarded
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
6 scallions chopped, white and green parts
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and thinly sliced
1/2, 6.75 package rice-stick noodles (found in the Chinese section of most grocers)
Canola oil for frying

In a small bowl, whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside until ready to assemble. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated.)

To fry the rice noodles, fill a deep pot with about 2 inches deep of canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Drop in a few rice sticks and watch them. They should poof up and turn white. When oil is ready, carefully add the rice stick "pillow," allow it to poof up, which should take less than a minute. Using tongs, carefully turn the rice stick pillow over and allow the other side to poof up and turn white. Don't leave the noodle too long, which will make them brown. (If you mess up, try again with the other half of the 6.75 rice noodle package.) Drain on paper towels and set aside until ready to assemble. (Can be fried several hours in advance. Set aside at room temperature.)

To assemble the salad, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, sesame seeds, chopped scallions, and sliced lettuce. Pour the sauce over and toss well. Place the crispy noodles on a large platter (spread it out to make a nice bed) and spoon the chicken salad on top. Serve immediately. YUM!

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