Back when I was interning at Cook’s Illustrated last summer, this was one of my favorite dishes to test out in the kitchens. The test cooks would make batch after batch, making revisions and listening to our feedback as the process went along. The romaine and cabbage make this a colorful winter salad, but the secret really is their dressing. A a base blend of soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, ginger, and chili-garlic sauce is whisked together and used to poach the chicken. The base is then used to make the dressing for the salad. Since the recipe was published earlier this year, I’ve made this salad many, many times, eating it for dinner, packaging it up for lunches with a small tupperware . I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe, though not many. The original recipe can be found here, at the Cook’s Country website, the sister publication to Cook’s Illustrated.First, I omitted the oranges; even while sampling this in the test kitchen, I always preferred the salads without the orange segments. I find the chopped salad and pepper combination comes together more evenly without them. Instead, using 1/4 cup of orange juice in the dressing/marinade base works just perfectly. I also prefer chicken thighs to breasts. They have a bit more fat, but they’re incredibly flavorful and moist. Instead of shredding the chicken, I used a butcher’s knife to carve the thighs into slices, and then chop the slices into evenly-sized chunks.
Some advice on making this salad: Using low sodium soy sauce is a must. With the regular versions, the saltiness can be overwhelming. Just a Tablespoon is a sodium bomb. Also, cutting all the ingredients into evenly-sized pieces will help ensure each bite of the salad has the perfect array of veggies and fixins. The first time I made this, both the bell peppers and the peanuts were too roughly chopped. Spending the extra time on finely chopping, especially with the peanuts, makes scooping these ingredients onto your fork a less unwieldy task.
I’ve also made the chicken portion of this recipe many times, saved it in the fridge, and used it to top a batch of cilantro-lime rice for a quick, hot, portable lunch. If you’re saving the salad for weekday lunches, or if you think you’ll have leftovers, don’t mix all the salad with the vinaigrette at once. Store them separately in fridge and combine just before serving. I found that a plastic ziplock bag was the perfect mode for storing the salad ingredients without taking up a lot of real estate in the fridge.
Chinese Chicken Salad
Slightly adapted from Cook’s Country
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 Tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Asian chili-garlic sauce
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, extra fat trimmed off
2 hearts of romaine lettuce, whole
1/2 small head napa cabbage
2 red bell peppers
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup salted dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1) Make the base marinade: add the orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, grated ginger, sugar, and Asian chili-garlic sauce into a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Take a 1/2-cup measure of the sauce and transfer it to a 12-inch skillet. Make the vinaigrette with the remaining liquid in the bowl by adding the vegetable and toasted sesame oils and whisking to thoroughly combine.
2) Cook the chicken thighs: Bring the base mixture in the 12-inch skillet to a boil, then add the chicken to the skillet in one layer, minimizing overlap as much as possible. Reduce the heat to medium and cover, and simmer. Turn the chicken over after 7 minutes, then continue to cook, covered, until the chicken are cooked through and reach 165-degrees on a meat thermometer. Transfer the chicken to a plate to rest. Add the reduced cooking liquid to the bowl containing the rest of the vinaigrette.
3) Make the salad: Cut off the hard stem of the romaine lettuce and wash the leaves thoroughly. Chop the romaine hearts along the short edge, forming roughly equally-sized chunks. Cut the core out of the cabbage, then slice it evenly. Chop the cabbage slices into pieces roughly the same size as the romaine lettuce. Cut off the top and stem of the bell peppers, then slice in half. Remove all of the seeds and tough white ribs along the inside. Cut each half into slices, then into 1-inch pieces. Wash the cilantro leaves and roughly chop as well.
4) Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, then toss with the remaining with the vinaigrette to evenly coat. Distribute portions onto plates, and top with chicken. Serve immediately.