The idea for this salad came from a dish we ate at LUCKYRICE 2011's Night Market. An Choi served an amazing chicken and cabbage salad on top of prawn crackers. There was a recipe for a Spicy Chicken and Cabbage Salad in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors but it didn't incorporate some of the things that I wanted in it - namely the prawn crackers and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. Plus I wanted to use red cabbage instead of green cabbage, because I think it's so much prettier. So I took the recipe as inspiration and a starting point and went to town. Our recipe was spicy, fresh, and bright. It carried a lot more heat and acidity than the version we had at LUCKYRICE, which I think made it a little less fresh and clean, but no less delicious. The poached chicken was moist and very flavorful. With poached chicken you often end up with a somewhat flavorless piece of meat, but the dressing packed more than enough punch to make it incredibly delicious without obscuring the flavor of the chicken itself. And the texture of the chicken was almost lusciously tender. I once read a description of a steamed chicken with breast meat as "soft as custard" and this is the first time that I have ever understood that description in the context of chicken. And when you contrasted the tenderness of the chicken against the crunch of the cabbage, the carrots and the prawn crackers you get a pretty fabulous salad with lots of flavor and lots of textural contrasts - a perfect refreshing summer meal.
Recipe after the jump!
Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad
1 tbsp salt
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 lb total)
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
about 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
4 cups shredded cabbage (we used the pre-shredded cabbage from the grocery store)
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 serrano chilis, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
7 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
prawn crackers, cooked according to package instructions
Fill a small saucepan half full with water, add salt and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the chicken breasts. When the water starts bubbling at the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly. Let stand covered for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred with your fingers (or a fork) into thin pieces. Put the chicken in a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile put the onion in a small bowl and add the vinegar to just cover. Set aside for 15 minutes. Drain well and add to the bowl with the chicken, carrot and cilantro.
To make the dressing, mash the chilis, garlic, sugar and salt together into a paste. Scrape the paste into a bowl and add the fish sauce and rice vinegar, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Stir to combine well.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and toss to mix well. Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking. Transfer cabbage to a serving plate to form a nice bed of cabbage, top with chicken mixture.
Serve with prawn crackers.