Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chinese Chicken Salad

The dressing for this recipe comes from family friend, Marion Hover. Marion is an excellent cook and I've had the pleasure of eating some wonderful dinners at her home in Sonoma (I can remember one such dinner around Christmastime where the evening ended with us all dancing around the room to Mariah Carey's, All I Want for Christmas. Ok, yeah we had a few drinks in us, but her dinners are always fun). I was lucky enough to have this Chinese Chicken Salad at one such dinner. While I was in college, I emailed her for the recipe and she kindly passed it along. I've been enjoying it ever since.

There is some discrepancy as to the origin of this dish and weather it is authentically "Chinese" at all. Many food historians agree that Chinese chicken salad was most likely invented in California sometime in the 1930s, using Asian inspired ingredients. 

Sugar snap peas showed up at the market the other day and I thought they would make a lovely edition to this salad. Occasionally, I also like to throw in a handful of fresh bean sprouts, but the Asian market on my street was sold out. For a bit of crunch, I like to use fried wonton wrappers. If you prefer to omit the wonton wrappers and are trying to save time, peanuts are a nice alternative (not to mention healthier) and add a nice bit of texture. This salad is a great way to transform  leftover chicken into a meal, which I often do, cutting your cooking time in half. 

Dressing recipe courtesy Marion Hover


For the salad:
10 wonton wrappers, cut into ½-inch strips and separated 
½ lb. sugar snap peas
1 large head romaine lettuce (or 2 romaine hearts), chopped or torn into bite size pieces
2 to 3 cups grilled or roasted chicken, cut into bite size pieces
1 or 2 dried red chili peppers, crumbled (or 1 fresh pepper, minced)
Vegetable or canola oil for frying

For the dressing:
1½ tbsp. smooth peanut butter 
2½ tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
½ tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. chopped green onions
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro 

For the salad
In a medium sized saucepan, heat ¾ to 1-inch of oil to 350 degrees F on a fry/candy thermometer. Fry 10 to 12 strips at a time until golden and crisp. Remove using a slotted spoon or spider and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with sea salt. Continue frying the rest of the strips in the same manner.

In a medium pot of boiling salted water, blanch the sugar snap peas for about 1 minute, until tender and crisp. Immediately transfer the snap peas to an ice bath to stop them from cooking. Once cool, strain, pat dry, and set aside. 

Place the lettuce in a large bowl along with the sugar snap peas and chicken. Pour dressing over salad (to taste) and toss to incorporate. Garnish with crumbled (or minced) red chili peppers and fried wonton strips (if using).

For the dressing:
In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the peanut butter, vegetable oil, and sesame oil together until well blended. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the oil and peanut butter mixture into the vinegar mixture in a slow steady steam, whisking constantly. Taste to adjust seasonings. Don't be afraid to play around with this recipe. 

Yield 4 servings

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