Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fumi Chinese Chicken Salad

I remember it so vividly, the first time I had Chinese Chicken Salad. It was about 1977 or 1978. Regularly, I was flying from Orange County to San Jose, to supervise and train people in an office I managed (from a distance). I usually flew one morning, spent one night and returned home the next night. The office staff would take me out to lunch one of the days I was there, and a favorite place, close by, was Ming’s in Palo Alto. It’s still there, likely serving much the same menu as in the 70’s and 80’s. I tried the Chinese Chicken Salad, and was mesmerized. Most likely it was the fresh cilantro and the dressing that hooked me. Whatever it was, I’ve been a convert ever since. I believe that was the first time I’d ever been served a salad with nuts in it. What a revelation.

I must have missed the Sunset issue when
Ming’s recipe was published. Nevertheless, I’ve collected Chinese chicken salad recipes by the dozens ever since. One year, attending a women’s luncheon, I particularly enjoyed the salad served, and was able to procure the recipe. I hadn’t made this for years and years and years, until the other night. Friends had been invited to dinner, and they requested I make salad, something light, and easy. First, we had cheese (fontina and manchego with some pear jam on the side) for appetizers, with some wine, then the salad, served with ciabatta. Followed by the pumpkin custard I posted yesterday.

The salad is quite simple in its construct. Cabbage, head lettuce, green onions, cucumber, almonds, cilantro and the noodles (dry) from Top Ramen (without the seasoning packet). The dressing is nothing by oil, seasoned rice wine vinegar, dark sesame oil, a little sugar, salt and pepper. It does take some time to chop and mince, but this salad is not as complicated as some I’ve had or made. The guests, and the family, raved about it. One guest said he thought the salad had the perfect proportion of cabbage and head lettuce, and that they were sliced just right. DH and our son-in-law Todd asked me to make it again, soon. No problem. I’ll be happy to.

A note about steeping the chicken: It was many years ago I read an article in Sunset about the Chinese (Asian) method of poaching chicken, used for any cold chicken dish you wish to make. It’s so very easy, and produces a much more tender and juicy piece of chicken than you can do by baking or even using a rotisserie chicken from the market. If time permits, bring a pot of water to a boil and add some carrot, celery and onion (otherwise just use water), allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, then add the boneless chicken breasts. Allow it to simmer very slowly for about 5 minutes or less. Put a lid on the pan, turn off the heat and allow the chicken to just sit (steep) in the liquid for about 30 minutes. Save the broth for another use, if you want, then allow chicken to cool a bit so it’s easier to handle, and chop or slice.

Cook’s Notes: The produce can all be chopped and diced ahead of time. The Top Ramen (or Sapporo brand, which is what I used) needs to be hand-crunched – you don’t want big chunks of it in your finished salad. If you have trouble with it, put it in a plastic bag and whack it multiple times with a lid or pan to break it up. I used all Splenda for the sugar, and poured on all of the dressing. It takes more dressing than you might think. Be sure to use the thick, dark sesame oil.

Fumi (Chinese Chicken) Salad
Recipe By: Adapted from a luncheon I attended some years ago.
Serving Size: 8 (lunch sized portion; 6 for dinner)
1/2 head cabbage -- chopped
1 bunch green onions -- minced
2 packages Top Ramen -- noodles only, not seasoning packets
5 each chicken breast halves without skin
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 bunch cilantro -- minced
1/2 whole English cucumber -- chopped
3 cups lettuce, iceberg -- sliced
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
3 tablespoons sugar -- or Splenda
1 tablespoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon peanut butter -- optional
1. Chicken: If you have the time, steep (cook) the chicken by bringing a few cups of water to a boil, add a cut-up carrot, an onion, a bay leaf and some celery, simmer for a few minutes, then add the chicken to the pot. Bring to a boil again and gently simmer for 5 minutes (yes, five minutes). Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for at least 30 minutes, then remove chicken to cool. Save broth for another purpose, if desired. When chicken is cool, chop into small bite-sized pieces. You may also use leftover chicken for this. This steeping method will give you a very tender and moist piece of chicken. If the chicken is very cold (or partially frozen) you will need to simmer it longer. If using any chicken pieces with bones, make sure when you chop the chicken, it is cooked through before adding to the salad.
2. Dressing: In a jar heat the rice wine vinegar and sugar in the microwave just hot enough so the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool, then add other ingredients, shake well, and set aside until ready to serve.
3. Salad: chop up the cabbage, lettuce, onions and cucumber. Toss these things in a large salad bowl until well mixed, then add in cilantro and chicken and mix a little. Top with almonds, sesame seeds and Top Ramen noodles. Pour dressing (you'll use most of it) over and toss well. If desired, you may sprinkle some more toasted sesame seeds on top.
NOTES : If you don't add lettuce to this dish, it will keep for a few days, but the lettuce wilts, obviously, within a few hours. If you choose to do that, add twice as much cabbage. If you want to make this lower in fat, switch the proportion of oil and wine vinegar. This salad requires a surprising amount of dressing. The Top Ramen adds even more fat to the dish, so I usually make it without it when making it at home. The recipe indicates it serves 8. It will, if in moderate, lunch-sized servings. For a dinner entree, this served 6.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don't use the high-sodium seasoning packet in the Top Ramen): 462 Calories; 32g Fat (60.4% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 996mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 5 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

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