With its juicy oranges, tender chicken and a crunchy topping, Chinese chicken salad offers an enticing variety of tastes and textures. But many versions seem to have lost their way, weighted down with gloppy sauces, lackluster chicken, sugary canned orange segments and watery greens.
We saw the potential to recast this salad in a healthier role by incorporating wholesome ingredients. To start, we traded canned oranges for fresh oranges rich in vitamin C and fiber. We cut out segments to top our salad and used the remaining juice as the basis for a bright vinaigrette, which we enlivened with 3 tablespoons of fresh ginger, a pop of Asian chile-garlic sauce, and just a touch of honey for sweetness.
We used some of this flavorful liquid to simmer our chicken breasts, then we shredded the meat and returned it to the pan to soak up the rich, bright flavors. For the salad's base, we replaced the usual lettuce with nutrient-packed napa cabbage, red bell peppers, cilantro, and scallions. For crunch, we passed on sodium-laden fried chow mein noodles and added a much healthier handful of unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts. You can substitute one clove of minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper for the Asian chili-garlic sauce.
CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD
Start to finish: 1 hour
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Asian chile-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil
2 teaspoons expeller-pressed toasted sesame oil
1 pound organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all visible fat
1 small head napa cabbage, cored and sliced thin
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
6 scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
Cut away peel and pith from oranges. Holding fruit over large bowl, use paring knife to slice between membranes to release segments; transfer segments to second bowl and set aside. Squeeze juice from membrane into first bowl (juice should measure 6 tablespoons).
Whisk vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, chile-garlic sauce, and honey into orange juice in large bowl; transfer 1/2 cup orange juice mixture to 12-inch skillet. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle canola oil and sesame oil into remaining orange mixture in bowl; set aside.
Bring orange juice mixture in skillet to boil over medium-high heat. Add chicken, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meat registers 160 F, 10 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking.
Transfer chicken to plate and let cool slightly. Using 2 forks, shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Off heat, return shredded chicken and any accumulated juices into skillet and let sit for 10 minutes.
Add cabbage, bell peppers, cilantro, and scallions to vinaigrette in bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to serving platter and top with shredded chicken, orange segments, and peanuts. Serve.
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