One of my all time favorite salads is the Classic Chinese Chicken Salad with Creamy Sesame Dressing. Just about every restaurant that you go to in Los Angeles and West, has their own delicious version. I never tire of it. One of the most famous of these salads as of late, is the HealthNut Chinese Chicken Salad made famous by the Kardashians. Almost every episode feature the sisters munching on these salads in giant plastic bowls. The salad is a simple mix of ingredients but the claim to fame here is The Sesame Dressing. This is my favorite combo for the Classic Chinese Chicken Salad, with a few more vegetables and my own flavor loaded Creamy Sesame Dressing.
I make two versions of this here at home, this one and another I will post at a later day with a vinaigrette type dressing. This is the one I’m crushing on lately.
The origins of the Classic Chinese Chicken Salad
The Chinese Chicken Salad is definitely a Far East inspired, California love child. This salad, as I’m sure you know, is not an authentic Chinese dish but something perhaps something made on the fly to possibly suit a guest (like Cary Grant) or use up extra ingredients that may have had a short life. I don’t know if we will ever definitively know, but there are several who take credit for creating the first Chinese Chicken Salad, so its origin is up for real debate. From what I found in my research, it is seen on menu’s around the 1950’s. But one thing seems certain, its birthplace appears to be right here in California.
Madame Wu of the iconic Santa Monica restaurant, Madame Wu’s Garden is one to claim to have created this salad. Madame Sylvia Wu and her husband opened their restaurant in 1959. It became a hotspot for celebrities, politicians, studio executives and quickly became renown around the world. According the the Hollywood Reporter, in an article written depicting “Hollywood’s 5 Favorite Salads: In a city where green equals lean, these five salads have claimed the title as the restaurant world’s most iconic — and most imitated.” There is no surprise here that the Chinese Chicken Salad makes the cut. So where exactly does the Chinese Chicken Salad come into the scene at Madame Wu’s? It appears around 1960’s and she claimed she made the dish for Cary Grant after he asked her to recreate a similar dish that he had elsewhere; a salad of chicken and noodles. She obliged by creating her rendition for him and the rest is history. Her recipe seems to be the foundation on which all modern day Chinese Chicken Salads are inspired by. The distinctive dressing includes hot mustard and five spice. And not to mention that her chicken is poached and then fried…pretty genius and delicious.
Others that claim the creation of this famed salad are none other than Owner and Chef of The Mandarin, a legendary upscale restaurant in San Francisco. The late Cecilia Chiang credited herself with creating this salad to use extra iceberg lettuce. In her memoir/cookbook, The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco, she describes the beginning of her recipe, “Truly, there is no ‘real’ Chinese chicken salad…In China, lettuce was imported and rare and salads were things that were pickled.” From there, she claimed the salad became popular among those clients watching their waistlines as lettuce was a fit friendly dish. Little known fact, her son Philip Chiang is none other than the co-owner of P.F. Changs. If you ever have time, check out the documentary, Soul of a Banquet, made about her, it’s an incredible glimpse of her life and career.
Yet other sources credit Chef Lee of the New Moon restaurant in Los Angeles of having served this salad early on. He is attributed with having it on his menu from the 1950’s all though I’ve had a hard time verifying this as well as trying to get the general recipe itself. One thing we can agree on, is that the Classic Chinese Chicken Salad has become a very popular salad choice and uniquely Californian like the Cobb Salad and the Chopped Salad (another favorite of mine).
Let’s make Chinese Chicken Salad
So let’s make it! I start by layering all the ingredients, adding the noodles and ginger last. This will prevent from the noodles possibly getting soft and the pickled ginger wilting the greens.
If you meal plan, this salad is great! You just need to add the noodles and ginger with the dressing at the time you serve it.
How to create your own version
There are so many variations of this salad out there! Too many to count so I thought I would provide some ideas on how to customize the salad.
- For your greens: iceberg, romaine, cabbage, Bok choy, and Napa cabbage all work well. For the cabbages, I would recommend very thinly sliced.
- Complimentary add on’s would be edamame, water chestnuts, baby corn, scallions, fresh ginger, pickled onions, daikon radish, red bell pepper, bamboo shoots, green beans, broccoli, peas and snow pea pods.
- For protein I prefer chicken or shrimp as they tend to work well with the flavors above. Marinated, cooked and thinly sliced sirloin steak would work as well.
- For some crunch, chopped almonds, peanuts, crispy won ton noodles, rice noodles, and my favorite, simple crispy chow Mein noodles.
- On top of all this goodness, you can mix some of these ingredients with cooked rice noodles, vermicelli or linguine noodles.
The options are limitless. If you prefer, you can always use ready made salad dressing. I, of course, am completely partial to my Creamy Sesame Dressing.
All content and photographs ©Claudia’s Table and claudiastable.com
Classic Chinese Chicken Salad
- Large bowl
- 8 cups romaine and iceberg lettuces hand torn
- 1 cup cucumber English, sliced
- 1 cup carrot freshly shredded
- 1/2 cup pickled ginger shredded
- 1 large chicken breast poached and shredded
- 1 cup chow mein noodles crispy (homemade or store bought
- 1 cup Creamy Sesame Dressing shown in recipe card below salad
- In a large bowl, toss lettuce, cucumber, carrots, noodles, ginger, shredded chicken, and dressing until well coated.
- Serve with addtional noodles and ginger.
Creamy Sesame Salad Dressing
- jar with lid
- 5 tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey, raw
- 1/2 tsp sambal oelek
- 1/2 tsp ginger fresh, finely minced or 1/8 tsp dry
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- Place all ingredients in a jar. Close with lid and shake until fully combined.