One of our favorite restaurants in Seattle is Ba Bar. Right in between Capitol Hill and Seattle’s Little Saigon, Ba Bar has Vietnamese food, French bistro stuff, a great bar with Tiki-inspired cocktails, and a full bakery and coffee bar in the morning. Seriously, Seattleites, check this place out. The night before we were supposed to leave Seattle to move to Illinois, or car broke down and our plans were pushed back a day. After a few stressful hours finding a mechanic and getting the car towed, we decided we needed two things: cold drinks and this chicken salad from Ba Bar.
Although I first had this salad at Ba Bar, it is a classic Vietnamese dish. The idea here is to take wispy thin shreds of cabbage, dress them with an assertive, oil-less vinaigrette (Thai and Vietnamese dressings do not have oil: they are usually equal parts lime and fish sauce, with aromatics added in varying amounts), and top them with chunks of juicy poached chicken, roasted peanuts, and fried shallots. And while this sounds like a lot to put together for a simple chicken salad, you can throw it together in about 10 minutes if you have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. Finally, if you’re into this sort of thing (I’m not), note that the peanuts are the only real source of fat in this whole dish.
The only “unusual” ingredient are fried shallots, which you can make yourself or buy in an Asian market. Look in the Thai, Vietnamese, and/or Indonesian aisle for a small plastic jar labelled “fried shallot” or “fried red onion”
These things last forever and are a great addition to Asian dishes as well as Western ones (green bean casserole!), so I recommend buying them when you see them. If you can’t find fried shallots and don’t want to make your own, it’s OK to leave them out – but you will be missing out.
One thing that really helps when you’re making any slaw is a good mandolin or V-slicer. My favorite is the Benriner, a Japanese brand favored by chefs all over the world, but you can use anything that will give you thin shreds. You can also use a knife (see these directions). If you really want to cheat, buy bagged pre-shredded cabbage (or “coleslaw mix”).
After you have the cabbage shredded (protip: shredded cabbage keeps for a week or so in the fridge. I like to buy a large head, shred most of it, and then use it for slaws, tacos, and fried rice throughout the week), it’s just a matter of tossing it with your dressing, peanuts, shallots, and some shredded chicken. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
serves at least 4
1/4 cup lime juice from 2 large limes, plus more to taste
1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons sugar, plus more to taste
1 small clove garlic, very finely minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 small head cabbage, shredded (use green, red, or a combination)
1 small carrot, grated or shredded with a mandolin and cross-cut blade (optional)
3 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally (optional)
1 bunch cilantro and/or mint, washed and coarsely chopped (optional)
12 ounces cooked shredded chicken (use leftovers, or buy a rotisserie chicken, or poach a 1 lb. bone-in chicken breast half, cool, then shred)
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts, plus more for garnish (nothing fancy, just the kind in the plastic jar that you buy in the snack foods aisle)
1/2 cup store-bought fried shallots, plus more for garnish
Make the dressing:
Combine the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a small jar or bowl. Shake/stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like: it should be an even mix of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy. Set aside.
Assemble the salad:
Place the cabbage, carrot, scallions, and cilantro or mint in a large bowl. Add about 1/4 cup dressing and toss well (clean hands are better than tongs for this). Taste and add more dressing if needed. Add chicken, peanuts, and shallots and continue to toss until well combined (once dressed, this salad doesn’t keep more than an hour or two, so if you’re making enough to eat for lunches throughout the week, prep all the ingredients and then assemble the salad at the last minute).
Serve in bowls with additional peanuts and fried shallots, if desired. Pass extra dressing at the table. Leftover dressing will keep for weeks and is great on rice, noodles, or cooked vegetables.