Bright and cool with fresh mint and lime, this Vietnamese chicken salad is easy to make and full of Asian flavor. Lunch? Dinner? Picnic? Yes!
Why Do We Love Vietnamese Chicken Salad?
This classic dish calls for everyday ingredients and comes together fast. It calls for shredded cooked chicken, so I think of it whenever we have roast chicken and need a way to enjoy its second day without needing a huge amount of chicken. Rotisserie chickens make this a snap! No mayo in this chicken salad so it’s a refreshing alternative
How Do We Serve This Salad?
We love it for lunch or dinner, picnic centerpiece or popular take-along for pot luck gatherings. For an Asian style meal, we enjoy it with rice, a quick stir fry of broccoli or spinach, and its traditional Vietnamese accompaniment, mien ga.
That’s a delicate and delicious chicken broth made with lots of fresh ginger and pepper, with lovely bean thread noodles to enhance it. We eat it as a one-dish meal, since it has lots of fresh vegetables and herbs and protein aplenty.
Chicken Salad Has Fans Worldwide!
Like chicken soup, chicken salads have a place of everyday honor in cuisines around the world. I adore the mayonnaise-dressed versions of my Southern childhood (and adulthood), but I’m in love with this Vietnamese take on the cool-chicken off-the-bone dish. Vietnamese chicken salad sports of crisp raw cabbage, a fish-sauce/pepper kick, and bright refreshing flavor-splashes of fresh herbs.
If you’re looking for a cool Asian-inspired salad with a fruity focus, make my Thai-style pink grapefruit salad with toasted coconut and a bright lime-and-herb kissed dressing.
And for a chicken salad with a bit of a story, consider my Coronation Chicken Salad, with roots in the festivities in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953!
How to Make My Vietnamese Chicken Salad
For this recipe, you will be delighted with how quickly it comes together. I give you instructions for cooking the chicken, but also note that you can jump ahead and start with about 2 cups of cooked shredded chicken breast.
First you mix up the dressing, which is oil-free by the way! Simply stir together a little fish sauce, vinegar or lime juice, sugar and ground black or white pepper. Add thinly sliced onion and let it soften while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
For the vegetables, you’ll need to shred some cabbage and some carrot — or use prepared coleslaw “mix” if you find a great version at your local supermarket. Also chop some peanuts and have them handy.
Then combine the chicken. cabbage, carrots and herbs in a big bowl, and pour on the dressing with the now tender and tasty onions. Toss it all well and sprinkle with peanuts and you are ready to enjoy!
Herbs Are Key for this Salad, but You Have Options!
Traditionally this dish includes rau ram, a uniquely flavorful herb beloved in Vietnam. Vietnamese people adore fresh herbs and often have a platter of numerous herbs on the table so guests can season their own portions to their taste.
Rau ram, the classic for this dish, is often available in Asian markets or farmers’ markets. And if you enjoy tending herbs, it’s a rewarding, low-maintenance one to grow at home.
I’ve found rau ram among the potted herb plants at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market here in Piedmont North Carolina. Its long, spear-shaped leaves grow widely spaced on segmented stems, and it often sports two distinctive marks on its leaves; but not always, so consider that a clue but not an absolute when seeking rau ram.
Resources on Growing Asian Herbs
Here’s a link to a post about many of the fragrant herbs enjoyed in Vietnam:
And here’s a source for growing a number of Asian herbs for your home garden:
If you don’t find rau ram for this salad, you can make a delicious version of the classic dish using fresh mint in place of rau ram. I love it with mint, and even when I have rau ram, I still add mint, too, because its cool vibrant aroma and flavor add an indispensable note for me.
Here’s a speedy quick video look at the signature herb which this dish features: rau ram. It’s often referred to in English as “Vietnamese mint”. Note that it doesn’t taste like mint, nor look like it either — but both are fresh, fragrant herbs so people often take a short cut language wise.
- 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, or 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar, or freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 cup very thinly sliced onion
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, cilantro, or basil leaves
- 1/2 cup rau ram leaves (optional)
- 2 cups finely shredded green, savoy, or napa cabbage
- 3/4 shredded carrots
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted and salted peanuts (optional)
- Put the chicken in a medium saucepan and add 2 to 3 cups of water, enough to cover the chicken by about 1/2 inch.
- Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to maintain a lively simmer, and cook until done, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and pepper in a medium bowl, and stir to dissolve the sugar and mix everything well.
- Add the onion and toss to coat. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes, until you are ready to complete the dish.
- Transfer the meat to a place to cool, reserving the broth for another use, such as making soup or cooking rice. When the chicken is cool, tear it into long, thin shreds.
- Coarsely chop the mint and the rau ram, if you are using it.
- Add the shredded chicken, cabbage, carrots, mint, and rau ram to the bowl of onions and seasonings and toss to coat everything well.
- Mound the salad on a serving plate and top with chopped peanuts, if you are using them. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
This recipe comes from Quick & Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books), Copyright 2006, all rights reserved.