Salad You’ll Want to Eat—Even on a Cold Day

There may be periods when you probably munch on some (or a lot!) of not-so-good-for-the-diet meals and snacks. Don’t beat yourself up, just counter-balance that approach by dressing up cooked chicken breasts with bright Asian flavors. This Vietnamese-Style Chicken Salad is built off of a packaged coleslaw mix, enhanced with fresh mint and cilantro, crunchy peanuts, and a sweet-and-salty dressing of fish sauce and rice vinegar.

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Super fast, super easy and super tasty, the recipe provides a flipside to all of that rich food and is perfect for a working weeknight. It’s even more expedient if you use some leftover chicken or a store-bought rotisserie bird. Of course, instead of packaged coleslaw you could make your own from green Napa and purple cabbages and shredded carrots allowing more control over the amounts of each and overall color distribution.

It was a cold Winter’s night when I made this, so grilling chicken breasts outside was not an option I dared consider. (You may have an indoor grill option.) Alternatively, I seared the seasoned meat in a hot skillet for one-and-a-half minutes each side, then popped the entire oven-proof pan into a 400 degree preheated oven for another 12 minutes total.* After allowing them to cool for about 15 minutes, they were easy to pull apart with my fingers into long thin strips.

We loved the salad just the way it was. But next time we’ll probably include two jalapeños (without stripping the veins) to increase the spiciness more to our liking. But please don’t omit the fresh mint and cilantro as they contribute an added dimension of flavor and perk up the salad.

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Ingredients

  • 3 small shallots, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped (seed first if you want less heat)
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless, thin-sliced (1/4 to 1/2 inch thick) chicken breast cutlets
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 oz. package coleslaw mix
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

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Shallots, sugar and jalapeño are mashed in mortar and pestle to release the juices.

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I seared our chicken breasts in a hot skillet then finished them off in a 400 degree oven.

img_9380Once cool enough to handle, shred the chicken along its natural grain with your hands.

Directions

  1. Prepare a medium grill fire. If you don’t have a grill, you can cook the chicken indoors on a ridged grill pan over medium-high heat for the same amount of time. *Or see my method above.
  2. With a mortar and pestle, pound the shallots, jalapeño, sugar, and 1/8 tsp. pepper until the shallots are very soft (but not pureed) and liquid is released. Transfer to a large serving bowl and stir in the vinegar and fish sauce.
  3. Season the chicken with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper and grill, turning once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Let cool and then shred the chicken with your fingers into long thin strips, pulling the meat along its natural grain.
  4. Toss the coleslaw mix into the vinegar mixture. Add the chicken, mint, and cilantro and combine well. Top with the peanuts and serve at room temperature.

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by Lori Longbotham from Fine Cooking

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