Chicken salads can be so dull …… but not when it’s Vietnamese-style! This slaw-like Vietnamese Chicken Salad is everything you love about Vietnamese food: Fresh and bright, yet full of flavour.
Just one piece of advice: Don’t skimp on the herbs or peanuts. They really bring the dish to life with freshness and texture!
Welcome to Day 10 of the inaugural Holiday Salad Marathon, a series where I’m doing the polar opposite of the usual sugar-loaded baking countdowns out there: I’m bringing you a new salad recipe every day through to Christmas Eve!
Today, it’s a salad that’s an ode to summer!
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
While this exact salad is not strictly authentic, the flavours, texture and spirit of the dish I drew heavily from traditional Vietnamese food. All across Vietnam you see these shredded “slaw-style” salads like green papaya salad and banana blossom salad, loaded with fresh herbs, compared to green leafy salads common in Western cuisine.
And similarly it is with the Nuoc Cham salad dressing that I’m using here. This is the fish sauce-based lime dressing spiked with finely chopped garlic and chilli that the Vietnamese use for literally everything. And that is no exaggeration! Dipping sauce, drizzling, dressing, sauce for meats, noodle bowls… (See it in action here and here and here).
And the most wonderful thing about this salad, like most Vietnamese food? It’s light and fresh and yet SO GOOD it doesn’t even register that it’s actually incredibly healthy!
What you need for Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Here’s what you need for this chicken salad:
Just a note on some of the ingredients:
- Chicken – Just using a store bought roast chicken for convenience here. Handy for hot summer nights! Otherwise, poached chicken is perfect.
- Cucumber – Two short (Lebanese) or one long one (continental/English/telegraph);
- Peanuts – Peanuts are best and most traditional but you can use cashews too. Sunflower seeds or pepitas would be lovely too!
- Fresh mint and coriander/cilantro – You really don’t want to skip the herbs. Vietnamese cuisine treats herbs almost as a vegetable itself, such an essential part of the foods they are! I use ordinary mint here not Vietnamese mint (which has a bit of a peppery flavour and is a bit much when used in large volumes like I do here); and
- Wombok / Chinese Cabbage (aka Napa Cabbage) – As recently used in Chang’s Crispy Noodle Salad (possibly Australia’s favourite salad!), this is ideal for slaw-type salads because it’s softer and juicier than regular cabbage like what you use for Coleslaw. The latter needs to be left to wilt so you don’t have pokey bits of cabbage flicking all around your mouth when you eat it. Chinese cabbage on the other hand is good to eat from the dress-go. (Yeah. I went there. Sorry.) The texture is somewhere between traditional stiffer green cabbage, and soft leafy greens.
You will need half a giant one or a full small one because because I only like to use the top 2/3 that holds (mostly) leafy bits. The bottom 1/3 or so is a bit too crunchy with stems, so the texture doesn’t meld as well with the rest of the salad. I leave it for use in stir fries and noodles.
Here is how I cut the cabbage: Two slits then finely shred. Fast and neat!
Vietnamese Salad Dressing
Here’s what you need for the Vietnamese Nuoc Cham salad dressing:
As mentioned above, this is a salad dressing form of Nuoc Cham, the Vietnamese mother-sauce that you will see used in virtually everything in Vietnam! Everybody has their own recipe and there are subtle differences depending on intended use, but the essentials in it are: Fish sauce (rather than soy sauce), sugar, garlic, chilli and something sour – either lime juice or rice vinegar or a combination of both.
This is the primary sauce used in Vietnamese cooking to add salt, savour and flavour into dishes, rather than soy sauce which is common in some other Asian cuisines.
Made from fermented anchovies, it packs a punch of umami like soy sauce. Yes, the smell is strong and it is fishy-tasting in plain raw form! When cooked or diluted and mixed with other elements, that funk fades away and leaves behind incredible rich and savoury taste in anything it is used (like this reader favourite Vietnamese Pork Bowls).
When used in dressings, you really need to be careful to ensure the fishy flavour is balanced and diluted enough by the other flavours in the dressing. Many people find very traditional Vietnamese salad dressing recipes a bit too fishy!
So in this case, I’ve dialled the fish sauce down, using just enough so we have great savoury flavour in the dressing but people rarely pick that there is fish sauce in it.
How to make Vietnamese Chicken Salad
There’s a bit of chopping involved here to get everything into shredded/baton shaped form. But it’s worth it! The slaw-like texture is so great here – it holds the dressing like a mop!
By the way, if you don’t have a carrot shredding tool (as pictured above), just grate it using a standard box grater.
How to serve it
Having meat included and on sheer bulk, this is a salad that’s intended to be a meal. It makes a big bowl that will easily serve 3 hungry adults, or 4 normal servings. And it’s satisfying because it’s quite a “dense” salad because the shredded vegetables pack down, slaw-style, rather than being a deceptively large mound of fluffy leafy greens.
So you won’t be starving 30 minutes after eating this. It’s actually a filling meal. Healthy and delicious and filling? That’s a food trifecta, right there! – Nagi x
PS. If you skipped the chicken, this would make a terrific side salad for anything Asian.
What is the Holiday Salad Marathon?
This is my inaugural Christmas recipe countdown where I am sharing 30 salad recipes in a row until Christmas Eve – something completely different to people’s usual baking countdowns!
These salads are in addition to my regular 3 new recipes a week. Because aren’t you bored of the usual tomato-cucumber-lettuce garden salad routine??
Watch how to make it
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
- 350g/12oz cooked chicken , cut into thin batons (2 large cooked breasts, Note 1)
- 6 heaped cups wombok cabbage (Napa cabbage), finely shredded (Note 2)
- 1/2 red onion , very finely sliced (so it’s floppy)
- 1 red capsicum / bell pepper , finely sliced into thin batons
- 2 cucumbers , remove seeds then finely sliced into half moons (or 1 long continental/English cucumber)
- 1 large carrot , peeled then julienned (I use a shredder)
- 1 large chilli , deseeded then julienned, optional (Note 3)
- 1 cup (tightly packed) mint leaves , large leaves roughly torn by hand (Note 4)
- 1 cup (tightly packed) coriander/cilantro leaves (Note 4)
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (sub light or all purpose soy sauce)
- 1/4 cup canola oil (or vegetable, grapeseed, peanut)
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1 large garlic clove , very finely minced
- 2 tsp red chilli , deseeded then very finely minced (birds eye or Thai Red Chilli best, Note 3)
- 1/2 cup peanuts, roasted unsalted , finely chopped (~1/3 cup once chopped, Note 5)
- Dressing: Shake Dressing ingredients in a jar. Set aside 10 minutes to let flavours meld.
- Toss: Place all Salad ingredients in a very large bowl. Pour over half the Dressing and toss well. Set aside 5 minutes (veg will soften slightly, making it more "slaw-like").
- Toss again: Just before serving, toss again then add most of the remaining Dressing. Taste then add more Dressing if you want.
- Serve sprinkled with lots of peanuts! (Note 6)
Life of Dozer
A familiar sight – Geoff, the local who lives at the dog park (the unofficial caretaker!), sampling some recipes I’m working on. And Dozer, hot on his heels!