With tomatoes and angel hair pasta.
Does that sound strange? Well, what we think constitutes a Chinese chicken salad depends on when you ask. Let’s look at a small sampling. Consider this version from the May 28, 1928 edition of the New Castle (Pennsylvania) News:
Chinese Chicken — Cook one cup drained crushed pineapple for a few moments in four tablespoons hot butter. Add six tablespoons flour and blend smoothly. Add one and one-half cups chicken stock and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir into boiling and thicken; then add three cups diced chicken meat. When very hot, pour on platter garnished with toast. Serve hot.
And this one, from the July 1, 1947 edition of the El Paso Herald Post, in an advertisement for Safeway grocery stores:
Chinese Chicken Salad —
Toasted buttered crackers or corn muffins, fresh peach slices on gingerbread squares and coffee bring the meal to a tasty finish.
Combine 2 cups each diced cooked chicken and bean sprouts, 1 cup each pineapple chunks and chopped cucumber, and 2/3 cup toasted shredded almonds; chill. Just before serving, add sufficient mayonnaise to moisten and season to taste with salt and lemon juice. Toss lightly to mix. Serve on Chinese fried noodles for a crisp, nut-crunchy flavor. Serves 6.
Carol Drake, Director
The Homemakers’ Bureau
An Extra Safeway Service
And finally this one, from the October 15, 1963 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune:
Chinese Chicken Salad . . .
Shred 2 cups leftover cooked chicken and 3 medium-sized cucumbers. Chop 1 scallion; crush a half-inch piece of fresh ginger root or 1 small clove garlic. Add 2 tablespoons salad oil; 1 tablespoon vinegar; 1 teaspoon sugar; 3 tablespoons light soy sauce; 1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate. Toss lightly. Chill (5 minutes in the freezer if you are rushed). Serve on lettuce leaves, for 4.
And there were others, even further away from Chinese cuisine; there’s a 1930s version that’s molded like an aspic and another 1960s version that uses French dressing.
The descriptor “Chinese” in this context is almost like using the word “spicy,” in that it tells you a veneer given to the dish, but doesn’t really speak to its intrinsic nature. The underlying chicken salad is a reflection of the era.
The only ingredient in any of these salad that a Chinese chef would probably find foreign are the canned fried chow mein noodles from the 1960s iteration. But we’ve talked about that before.
From a box sold in Martinez, California.
Chinese Chicken Salad
1/2 c. rice wine or red wine vinegar
1/4 c. low-sodium soy sauce
2 T. olive oil
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. chopped green onion
1 T. chopped cilantro
1-1/2 t. dry vermouth
1 t. minced garlic
1 t. minced ginger
3/4 t. brown sugar
(makes 1 cup)
4 c. shredded lettuce (romaine)
2 c. shredded red cabbage
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced thin
1 c. cherry tomatoes
4 oz. capellini pasta (cooked and rinsed)
3 c. cooked sliced chicken breast
2 T. sliced almonds
In large bowl toss lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, tomato with 1/4 c. dressing. Transfer to a large serving platter.
In same bowl toss pasta with 1/4 [c.] dressing; arrange on greens.
In same bowl toss chicken with remaining dressing. Spoon onto pasta. Sprinkle toasted almonds over chicken to garnish.