If you're here for the greatest Chinese Chicken Salad recipe you'll ever make, hit that "jump" button. Otherwise, I have a story, ok? Ok.
My family is not Chinese.
However, you might never guess that based on the fiercely possessive national pride my Dad has for China. If you ask my Dad where something comes from, where it originates, the history of anything, I am willing to bet my kingdom's inheritance that he will say “China.” Test him with something. He will find a way to trace its roots back to China. Just like “kimono.”
Ice cream? China.
Spaghetti? My Dad LOVES this one.
“It is a common misconception that spaghetti comes from Italy, when in fact, it was Marco Polo's travels through China…” Dad will be smiling, as he gets to prove himself, yet again, the Great Enlightener.
With the exception of potatoes, which my Dad has conceded to origins in the mountains of Peru, everything comes from China.
Chinese Chicken Salad is... NOT Chinese?
But one of these days, I am going to ask my Dad about Chinese Chicken Salad. He will have to think about that one. Dad is going to lean back in his Captain’s chair with his fingers interlaced behind his head and think hard because there is no way in hell he will be able to trace Chinese Chicken Salad back to China. Not even Asia. I bet it doesn’t even come from anywhere near the northern hemisphere.
See, Chinese Chicken Salad is just about the most American food there is. Like many foods, the true origin of Chinese Chicken Salad is debatable, but it is commonly attributed to Wolfgang Puck, who created it somewhere within his Asian fusion empire.
Imagine that. An Austrian chef who does Asian Fusion in America invents Chinese Chicken Salad. How confusing. And I wonder about my identity crisis.
However, regardless of the uncertainty of it origins and the fact that its being overpriced, overdone, and just plain oh-ver, I still love a good Chinese Chicken Salad and consider it an American Classic.
Chinese Chicken Salad Restaurant Variations
I’ve tried my fair share of Chinese Chicken Salads from restaurants in Los Angeles—dare I say I've tried all of them?—and each one is different, from the type of greens used as a base to the preparation of the chicken, from the flavors in the dressing to the additional ingredients that make the salad "Chinese." These are some of the most talked about Chinese Chicken Salads, which have influenced my own favorite recipe.
- Feast from the East Chinese Chicken Salad: romaine lettuce, shredded chicken, sliced almonds, sesame seeds, scallions, wonton strips, sesame-based dressing.
- California Chicken Café: lettuce, white meat chicken, almonds, Mandarin oranges, Chinese noodles, rotini pasta, green onions, carrots, sesame-based dressing
- Health Nut Restaurant, Khloe Kardashian's Favorite: romaine and iceberg lettuces, shredded chicken breast, chow mein noodles, pickled ginger, carrots, and sesame dressing
- Chin Chin: iceberg lettuce, chicken breast, scallions, carrots, toasted almonds, crispy rice noodles, wonton crisps, ginger dressing
- Wolfgang Puck's Chinois on Main Chicken Salad: mixed greens, Napa cabbage, radicchio, grilled chicken breast, carrots, mango, fried wonton strips, toasted sesame seeds, cashews, honey Chinese mustard vinaigrette
- Joan's on Third: iceberg lettuce, fried chicken, almonds, fried wontons strips and rice vermicelli, sesame-based dressing
All of the salads are good, but none of them are better than making it at home exactly the way *you* want it, pulling the best elements from all the other salads out there. My Chinese Chicken Salad is VERY AUTHENTIC to me.
By the way, if you have a recommendation for a good Chinese Chicken Salad in a restaurant, let me know. I am always researching.
What Ingredients You Need for Chinese Chicken Salad
Most Chinese Chicken Salads have some combination of lettuce, nappa cabbage and/or other greens that might suggest "Asian," mandarin oranges, nuts, some form of pasta like fried wonton strips, "chow mein" noodles, or rice vermicelli, nuts, scallions, and a dressing that involves soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.
The following ingredients are specifically what you need for THIS Chinese Chicken Salad, though the recipe is endlessly flexible and the ingredients can be substituted to suit your preferences and what's locally and seasonally available to you:
- shredded chicken breast
- napa cabbage
- purple cabbage
- tangerines (fresh! not canned!)
- snap peas
- dressing, my fav of which is Ginger Miso or sesame soy
Chinese Chicken Salad Ingredients Notes and Resources
- Chicken. Store-bought rotisserie chicken is your BEST FRIEND for this recipe. Any cooked or leftover chicken breast works. In fact, I have never actually cooked chicken with the express intent of making this salad.
- Napa cabbage is the oblong-shaped cabbage that is used often in Asian cultures, e.g. in kimchi. If you can't find napa cabbage, use any green cabbage. To be honest, you can use romaine lettuce as the base, too. You just want 6 cups of something green and crunchy-crisp, shredded or finely chopped.
- Purple cabbage adds color, which is a visual aesthetic thing, but also an indicator of nutrient density. Purple cabbage is available year-round in every grocery store.
- Carrots. I used red carrots for nothing else than their color.
- Tangerines. Fresh citrus is generally in season in winter, but the small tangerines and mandarin oranges are almost always available year-round in grocery stores. Use any small tangerine or mandarin orange for this. Don't use the canned mandarin oranges. Not only are the canned oranges usually soaked in sugar syrup, but why? Why wouldn't you use fresh mandarins that still retain all their nutrients?
- Snap Peas are the sweet, "puffy" peas in their pods. You can also use their flat cousins, snow peas, or even shelled edamame.
- Almonds. Sliced almonds are easier to eat with a fork or spoon in a salad. However, if you have whole roasted almonds, just chop them and use those.
Substitutions and Optional Ingredients for Chinese Chicken Salad
Add any or all of the ingredients below in addition to or to substitute for ingredients in the main recipe.
- Cucumbers, chopped or julienned
- Radish, any kind, julienned
- Snow Peas or Edamame.
- Red onions, sliced and soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, or pickled red onions
- Water chestnuts
- Cashews or peanuts
- Tofu. To make this salad vegetarian/vegan, substitute pan-sauteed or air fried tofu.
- Fried rice vermicelli, wonton strips, or "chow mein" noodles
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Toasted whole sesame seeds
- Pickled ginger. This is so not Chinese to me, I was actually kind of offended when I saw it as an ingredient in a restaurant version, but then I remembered what we're talking about here lol
Chinese Chicken Salad Recipe
- ½ head napa cabbage, finely shredded (about 6 cups)
- ¼ head red cabbage, finely shredded (about 2 cups)
- 2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
- 4 tangerines, peeled and sliced or separated into segments
- 2 cups snap peas, finely sliced
- 2 green onions, sliced
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 2 cooked chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded
- 1 cup Ginger Miso Dressing or simple Classic Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing below
Classic Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablesoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
- 1 clove garlic, green stem removed and very finely minced
- ½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
For Composed Salad Platter:
- In a large mixing bowl, toss shredded napa cabage with about ¼ cup of dressing, and spread out on platter. Toss shredded purple cabbage with about 2 tablespoons of dressing and place on one section over napa cabbage. Place the remaining ingredients in sections over the napa cabbage. Drizzle entire platter with dressing, or serve dressing in small bowl on the side.
For Chopped Salad Bowl:
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, including dressing. To make the salad easier to eat, use kitchen shears to further chop the ingredients in the bowl.
Make Classic Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing
- Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together, or pour into a mason jar and shake vigorously.
This recipe originally published March 2006, updated March 2022.