20051028

chinese chicken salad



back in the seventies, mrs. kong, a nice lady from hawaii, served a salad to me that was unlike anything i'd ever seen--shredded chicken, styrofoamy spiderwebby fried rice noodles, funky strips of luminescent red pickled ginger, sesame seeds, and the absolute heighth of exoticism to guamish child santos--iceberg lettuce cut with a knife into neat little squares. what tha heck is this? "why, chinese chicken salad!" she said, like i being of some chinese origins should know. sure. okay. it was squeaky. i liked it.

of course, it disappeared when she and her family moved back to kauai, and i didn't think about it again until i went to university in the eighties. i lived in los angeles near a mall that had this chinese fast food place called panda express, which is now a mungo-normous chain that has the dubious distinction of having drive-through windows (how do you get three choices when you have no idea what's in the steam tables? does the hot and sour soup fit in your car's drink holder?), but back then was just this funny turo-turo-style chinese joint, with a steam table holding hot foods of various chinese-american origins, and in the back they had a giant tub of chinese chicken salad that wasn't far off from mrs.kong's variety. the only difference was that it also had strips of fried won ton noodles, and the dressing was little more than diluted white vinegar, unlike mrs.kong's soy sauce-vinegar-sesame oil mix. manoman, i loved that stuff. squeaky, pale, and bland, but with occasional bits of chicken or pickled ginger all doused in vinegar water (say what you want, but that iceberg lettuce never got bogged down in oily limpness).

around the same time, chinese food got sort of hip in la, and a couple of mid-priced, trendy restaurants opened up, chin chin, and mandarette. the two restaurants could not be any more different from each other--chin chin was (is) young z-list actors' paradise on the sunset strip, with overly bright lighting, no style, and overly salty, overly sauced american-chinese food cooked by really nice mexican cooks. mandarette was (is) youngish a/b-list actors' family chinese restaurant on an busy part of beverly boulevard, poorly lit, eclectically decorated, with very, very good food cooked by surly chinese men. the one thing that they had in common (besides the fact that i was a regular at both) was that their chinese chicken salads were almost exactly the same. which was pretty much the same as the panda express version, only with more chicken.

fast forward to now: between uni and now, i think i've had chinese chicken salad only a handful of times; it no longer seems fashionable to serve it in restaurants (iceberg lettuce! the horror!), and all that slicing, dicing, and frying at home seems like such a big deal. however, now that we are getting some interesting foliage to eat on a regular basis, and if i skip the frying part, it doesn't seem to be such a big deal anymore.

this particular salad in the photo above is made from one of those mixed bagged salads (i believe it was called big ole bag o' organic greens™), sugar snap peas, shredded carrots, sliced orange sweet peppers, radish sprouts, chopped spring onions, cilantro, and shredded breast of supermarket rotisserie chicken. veddy simple, yazzz. even if you can't/won't get all the mod cons, it's still simple enough to assemble whatever you want for your salad--try adding watercress, cabbage, radishes, or yes, yes, iceberg lettuce . if you add toasted sesame seeds, sliced almonds or crushed peanuts, you won't miss all that fried noodle-y stuff all that much (or maybe you can get reid to send you a bag of "one ton" strips), and you save yourself a load of aggravation and added fat. the dressing is simple enough, and can be played with at whim: the basics are ginger, vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and vegetable oil. my version also includes a bit of fresh cilantro and ground coriander. just 'cause.


cilantro ginger vinaigrette

one small thumb of peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp of sugar
1/4 c of cilantro stems, finely chopped
4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 c canola or vegetable oil
white pepper and salt to taste

mix everything but the oils together in a bowl. add the oils in a steady stream, whisking vigorously until incorporated. dress salad just before serving.

10 comments:

Your salad is a thing of beauty, Santos, and your photos are getting more fab all the time!

I love these types of salads. Perfect for summer and so refreshing too.

Hi Santos,

Interesting choice of dressing. I usually use a creamy dressing like the one I used in this post here.

http://onokinegrindz.typepad.com/ono_kine_grindz/2004/08/chinese_chicken.html

missmoiraaaaa! so glad you blogging more frequently, i miss your gorgeous photos and entertaining posts.

gloop! endless summer, here. need my salads!

reid--i have to try your dressing sometime. i don't eat creamy dressings that often, but yours sounds like something i'd like.

I LOVE your blog... it's full of interesting stories, great recipes, and gorgeous photos! Thanks for stopping by mine today even though it's just a babyblog so far :-)
Kim (in Albania)

hi kim--babyblogs are the best! not that many archived posts to catch up on :)

Hey Santos - your salad is gorgeous and really sounds good - just wish it was summer here! I think I shouldn't have any trouble finding any of the veggies though and with a little hot soup, it should do quite nicely on a chilly autumn evening!

hi cathy! how 'bout trying the dressing with some spinach and fried tofu? you could have a warm-ish salad.

Lovely! And the dressing sounds wonderful. Again, thanks for sharing.

hi mm! thanks! i hope you try it sometime.