Chinese chicken salad
|Chinese chicken salad|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Main ingredients||Chicken, Chinese noodles, lettuce, ginger, sesame oil|
|Cookbook:Chinese chicken salad Chinese chicken salad|
Chinese chicken salad, as its name suggests, is a salad with chicken; therein, flavored with — and styled by — those Chinese culinary aspects that are both common and popularly adapted in parts of the United States. Though many variations exist, common features of most salads described as "Chinese chicken" contain: lettuce; chicken; raw ginger or pickled ginger; sesame oil based dressing; plus, crisp pieces of either deep-fried wonton skins or rice vermicelli (aka, fried rice sticks, noodles). Other recipes may contain a combination of water chestnuts and mandarin orange slices; or, otherwise, mandarin orange slices and crushed instant ramen noodles. A vinaigrette incorporating vegetable oil and a ramen seasoning packet is a frequent component of this latter homestyle version of the recipe. In restaurants, Chinese chicken salad may be more embellished and offered as an American style "entree salad" (if not referred to as a main course or dinner salad), similar to Caesar, Chef, Cobb salads, etc.
Origins of the so-called Chinese chicken salad are unknown, whereas it's believed to have originated from Pan-Asian cuisine influences, rather than having actual roots in Chinese cuisine. Reasoning for that theory is that green lettuce salad is a dish of primarily Western origins.
Many "non-Western" world cultures also have salads of various sorts as part of their traditional cuisines. In Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, Sylvia Lovegren writes, "There are many different types of cold chicken salad in China, although most of them seem to originate in Szechwan. But the Chinese chicken salad being consumed ... by the fashionable set, probably originated in California." In Hollywood Dish, Akasha Richmond writes, "Hollywood gave rise to more salads than just the Caesar and Cobb. The 1960s produced the Chinese Chicken Salad, which was made popular at Madame Wu's in Santa Monica. Cary Grant asked her to put it on the menu after eating it at another restaurant."
According to Madam Wu's own website and interpretation, "She came up with something better, using a recipe she vaguely remembered having encountered in Shanghai. It was a blend of shredded chicken, fried vermicelli, green onions and toasted almonds. Madame Wu’s soon became known for her Chinese chicken salad, now an American luncheon classic." But, the popularity of Chinese Chicken salad was not necessarily mainstream yet, although perhaps intimated and attempted throughout the years and generations.
For start, in the United States, many common cookbooks from circa 1900 to the 1950's would include chicken salad; but, for many of them, that would often presume a bound salad with chopped vegetables and (especially) mayonnaise, typically without lettuce. For example, The Settlement Cookbook by Mrs. Simon Kander, publised as early as 1910, includes a simple "Lettuce salad" with chopped onion and French or German dressing; but, no Chinese, Asian or Oriental salad of any kind. Similar bound chicken salads were found in Joy of Cooking as of the 1974 editions (first published as of 1931). It was by 1950's that main course type salads started to appear in books like Better Homes & Gardens, New Cook Book; whereas, that often included Caesar Salad along with the usual bound chicken salad, but no Asian styled or flavored salads; that's if only seemingly and somewhat more exotic as to include typical Pacific region ingredients that provided for avocado dressing, "Green Goddess Salad", "Hawaiian Pineapple" Salad and a "Cocunut Fruit Bowl."  Yet, the Good Housekeeping Cookbook introduced a "Sesame-Spinach Salad," with soy sauce and salad oil, although not with sesame oil; whereas, this introduced something closer to Asian flavors, such as comparatively to what also included a few curry salads and still others that were similar to Better Homes. The next generation of ever more exotic and main course salads were on the way.
With intimations of Asian style lettuce salads appearing by the 1960s and into the 1970's, publishers like California's Sunset Magazine stated in their popular cookbooks and guides that "You'll find such classics as Caesar, Waldorf, and Crab Louis; international favorites with exotic names like Tabbuli and Antipasto; satisfying whole-meal salads like Shrimp-stuffed Avocados and Taco Salad…" and so on. Suddenly, sesame seeds went from just being a garnish on a salad, to being an ingredient for a recipe of "Sesame Seed Dressing" (p. 6); but, more over, and indeed, there was now a recipe for "Chinese Chicken Salad" (p. 35).
Sunset's recipe for Chinese Chicken appeared similarly as to what it's known as today, including: soy sauce; salad oil;, garlic and ginger; (relatively exotic) Chinese five-space or ( more common substitute) ground cinnamon); broiler fryer chicken (marinated in sherry wine); sesame seed; shredded iceberg lettuce; green onions; coriander (cilantro); cashews or peanuts; and lemon dressing. . It was noted therein, that "Many variations of this salad vie for popularity. This one, without traditional crisp noodles, is simpler than most…" since, fried vermicelli noodles is probably difficult to find and make for many homemakers. Most of these recipes had not yet included sesame oil, seemingly still rare to find for most homemakers.
Beyond that, perhaps reflecting the California lifestyle and its eventual approach to the newer California Cuisine that used fresh ingredients and contemporary, multicultural flare, Sunset also now provided countless other asian salad recipes, seeming to recognize the new trend and desire: Oriental Cabbage Slaw (p. 24); Oriental Wilted Romaine Salad (p. 25); Chicken in Cantaloupe with Curry Dressing (no lettuce) (p.33); Hoisin Chicken Salad (p.36); Oriental Turkey Salad (p. 37); and so on.  The new Chinese and other asian salads were added with a broad arrangement of other main salads, although perhaps not authentic, they were nevertheless styled and inspired by exotic cuisines and ingredients. Sunset's salad book and recipes seemed to appeal to Americans's desire for greater variety and international fares.
The continued popularity of Chinese chicken salad has established its regular feature on many restaurant menus, including from the fast food establishment Wendy's "Asian Cashew Chicken Salad" to the upscale "Chinois Chicken Salad" by Wolfgang Puck; of which, this later figure is indeed one of the few pioneers of California Cuisine.  Today's Chinese Chicken salad has been developed and found its contributions from various restaurants, cookbooks and online recipes. All of them provide variations of the salad's style and theme; all of them representing interpretations from various contributors.
While Chinese Chicken salad, and its variations, have also been known as "Asian Chicken Salad" and "Oriental Chicken Salad"; more over, it has as well (sometimes) seen the removal of chicken from the dish and its name (if not adding or substituting other ingredients, like seafood).
- "Ramen Noodle Chicken Salad".
- Martin Yan (2000) Chinese Cooking for Dummies, John Wiley and Sons ISBN 0-7645-5247-3
- Sylvia Lovegren (2005) Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-49407-1
- Akasha Richmond (2006) Hollywood Dish: More Than 150 Delicious, Healthy Recipes from Hollywood's Chef to the Stars, Penguin ISBN 978-1-58333-241-2
- Mrs. Simon Kander, The Settlement Cookbook, The American Crayon Company, New York, N.Y., 1910, fourth edition, pg. 195, 206-207.
- Irma s Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking, Signet/The New American Library, Inc., 1974; original copyright 1931, The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc.
- Better Homes & Gardens', New Cook Book, Meredith Publishing Company, 1953, 1962, 1965, Ninth Edition.
- Zoe Coulson, Eds., The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, The Hearst Corporation, New York, New York, 1973, ISBN 0-87851-014-1
- Judith A Gaulke and Linda Brandt, Eds., Sunset Favorite Recipes for Salads, Sunset Books/Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, CA, 1979, 1966, 1962, 1937 copyright, Fourth printing 1982, page 2.
- Judith A Gaulke and Linda Brandt, Eds., Sunset Favorite Recipes for Salads (p.35)
- Judith A Gaulke and Linda Brandt, Eds., Sunset Favorite Recipes for Salads