One of my favorite menu items at any Chinese restaurant is Chinese Chicken Salad. I especially love the puffed up white threads that provide a light crunch with every bite, don't you?
Those threads? They're bean threads, made with mung bean starch and potato starch. You can either soak them in water to add to soups, if you deep fry them they'll puff up into the crunchy strips we so associate with Chinese chicken salad.
Here's a favorite recipe from a friend of a friend (thanks Martha!) who made this salad for a for a gathering of girlfriends a while back. It's a perfect recipe for summer picnics (though you might want to double the recipe, it goes quickly!).
Recipe and photos updated, first published 2007
Chinese Chicken Salad
- 3 cups loosely packed, shredded, cooked white chicken meat (about 3/4 pound), (see How to Poach Chicken)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (use gluten-free soy sauce for gluten-free version)
- 1 Tbsp sherry
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- About 1 cup canola oil or peanut oil
- 2 ounces (1 bunch) bean threads
- 4 green onions, shredded lengthwise
- 1 large head of romaine lettuce (or 2 small heads), cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices
- 2 Tbsp chopped toasted almonds
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
- 3 Tbsp rice vinegar (can sub cider vinegar)
Shred, season, and marinate the cooked chicken:
Using two forks, shred the cooked chicken. (If starting with raw chicken, see How to Poach Chicken).
Mix soy sauce, sherry and sugar in a bowl and add the chicken. Let soak for 10 minutes. Remove chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Fry the bean threads in hot oil:
Put 3/4 inch of high smoke point cooking oil (such as canola oil or peanut oil) into a small saucepan. Heat on high heat until shimmering.
Take one bunch of the dried bean threads and gently break them up a bit. Test the oil by putting one bean thread into the oil.
If the oil is hot enough, the bean thread will almost immediately sizzle and puff up. That's when you know the oil is hot enough.
When the oil is ready, working with a few bean threads at a time, put them in the hot oil.
As soon as they puff up, remove them carefully with tongs and place them on a paper towel to cool. The paper towel helps remove any excess oil. Set aside.
Fry the shredded chicken:
In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil from the bean threads until hot.
Add the chicken and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to bake in the seasoning. Set aside.
Slice green onions lengthwise:
Cut the green onions in 3 to 4 inch long pieces, and shred them lengthwise.
Toast the chopped almonds and sesame seeds:
Toast the chopped almonds, or chop your toasted almonds; toast your sesame seeds. (Heat a thin skillet to medium high heat, add the seeds - or nuts, don't do them both together - stir frequently until they begin to brown, remove from heat, they will continue to cook. Let cool to room temp.)
Make the dressing:
Put all of the dressing ingredients together in a jar—sugar, salt, pepper, vegetable oil, dark sesame oil, rice vinegar—cover with a lid and shake until emulsified.
Just before serving the salad, mix all of the salad ingredients together - lettuce, chicken, bean threads, almonds, sesame seeds, and dressing.