Culinary Adventures: Hunan Chicken Salad

Every time my family has a formal day-time gathering, I’m usually asked to make this cold salad, which is typical of the Hunan region of China. Everyone seems to love it, and I’m always asked for the recipe, so here it is. All the ingredients can be purchased at your local grocery store, but if you want to get the best Asian produce, go to the Phai Nam Grocery.

Servings: 4-6


4 lb. whole chicken

2 stalks of lemon grass root

2-3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced or cubed

1 cup chopped fresh green onion

8 slices of fresh ginger

1 lemon, quartered

3 Tblsp. sesame seed oil

½ lb thin cellophane noodles, cooked (opt.)


3 Tblsp. rice vinegar

2 Tblsp. sake, dry white wine or light sherry (opt.)

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tblsp. soy sauce

1/8 cup minced ginger

½ lb crunchy peanut butter

salt and black pepper

7-8 green onions chopped (white part only)

Bring a large kettle of water with salt to a simmer. Throw the lemon grass stalks, lemon quarters, sesame seed oil and ginger slices in and let simmer for a few more minutes. Place the whole, cleaned chicken in the pot and poach for about an hour and a half, or so, or until the joints seem to flex and stretch if pulled on. Do not ever let the liquid boil; it must simmer only. Otherwise, the chicken will be tough.

When the chicken is done, remove from water, drain and let cool on a plate in the refrigerator. When it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and discard and rip shreds of meat off into a bowl. Shred all the meat finely (using your hands is really the best way.)

When all the chicken is shredded, return it to the refrigerator and discard all the remains and liquid.

In a small mixing bowl, mix all the dressing ingredients together, except the broth, and taste. Salt and pepper if necessary, and then add the cup of broth, and taste. Add by teaspoons of the other ingredients to taste. If you over-flavor, add more of the chicken broth. There is no specific way to make this dressing, but the measurements above are the way I like it.

Follow the boiling directions for the cellophane noodles on the bag. Basically, you just need to grab about two handfuls of the long rice noodles (breaking them off into 5-inch pieces) and throw them in boiling water for a few minutes. When they’re done, rinse them and let them sit in cold water until they’re ready for use. You can also let them sit in cold water for about 15 minutes instead of cooking them.

Arrange sliced cucumbers around a plate or serving dish. Drain the clear noodles and pour them over the cucumbers, putting a few drops of sesame oil on top to make the noodles flexible and not sticky. Put the shredded chicken on top of the noodles and pour the dressing directly over the layered mixture, covering the surface area entirely with sauce. Let this salad plate chill in the refrigerator for about three hours or more to allow the flavors to develop, and then serve as a full meal with hot jasmine tea, or as a first course followed by a stir fry.

Note: If you don’t want the hassle of the noodles, you can omit them from the recipe and serve the chicken as a spread on thin rice or sesame crackers; it’s a delicious appetizer.

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