This recipe was semi-inspired by the Chinese Chicken Salad at The Cheesecake Factory. I fell in love with dish in eighth grade—it made me feel grown up and sophisticated. Twenty something years later, I still find the salad delicious. It’s sweet, savory, refreshing, and extremely crunchy. (I’m a huge sucker for iceberg lettuce.)
The History of Chinese Chicken Salad
The exact origin of “Chinese Chicken Salad” is unknown. However, legend has it that it was invented in the 1960s at Madam Wu’s in Los Angeles because Cary Grant requested it. Sunset magazine published a recipe in 1970, and Wolfgang Puck created his own version of it in the 80’s.
The salad itself is much more American than it is Chinese. In her book, The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey From Beijing To San Francisco, chef Cecilia Chang says, “In China, lettuce was imported and rare and salads were things that were pickled.” Because my recipe is based on a American chains version of a very American dish, I decided to change the name to more accurately describe what it is: a crunchy salad with chicken and mandarin oranges.
The Crunch Factor
Many restaurant versions of the dish, including The Cheesecake Factory use wonton strips and crispy rice noodles. I sub in a block of broken up ramen—the cheap, dried stuff, not the fresh noodles that come refrigerated. Broken up, the crunchy, wavy noodles act as croutons. The almonds can be easily swapped for cashews or roasted peanuts.
Leftover rotisserie chicken works wonderfully for this recipe, but if you have chicken breasts on hand, follow our easy guide to poaching chicken.
I’m a sucker for the syrupy sweetness you get from a can of mandarin oranges. But fresh mandarin oranges (aka clementines) will add the perfect pop of brightness to your salad.
YIELDS: 8 SERVINGS PREP TIME: 0 HOURS 15 MINS TOTAL TIME: 0 HOURS 20 MINS
FOR THE SALAD
- 3 c. finely chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce
- 2 c. shredded red cabbage
- 2 c. shredded chicken
- 1/2 c. jarred mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 instant ramen packet, crushed (flavor packet discarded)
- 1/2 c. shredded carrot
- 1/3 c. sliced green onions
- 1/4 c. sliced almonds
FOR THE DRESSING
- 3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. minced ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 c. vegetable oil
- Make salad: In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, red cabbage, chicken, mandarin oranges, crushed ramen noodles, carrots, green onions, and sliced almonds.
- Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Slowly drizzle in vegetable oil, whisking constantly until emulsified.
- Before serving, drizzle dressing over salad and toss to combine.