Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where we put the “schwing” in “SCHolastic overvieWs of food culture and hIstory. NG.” We’re working on the slogan. I’m your failed Marketing Master, Jon O’Guin, and remember a couple weeks ago, how I got all pissy that I was making a “casserole” that wasn’t actually a ‘casserole’, and ‘words have meanings’ and all that? Well today, I was considering launching into a similar diatribe regarding this dish being “Vietnamese”, but…well, let’s see where we go.
Chill Out, Dude
Now, I don’t know about you guys, but it is STUPIDLY warm in my area right now. Like, yesterday it was above 90 for most of the day. And sure, that’s not a super-impressive number for people who live in the San Diegos and Houstons of the world, but for a guy who lives 10 miles from Seattle (as the crow flies), it’s a notable number!
Mostly as the seal swims, too.
And while, yes, Summer is a time for barbecuing and grilling, there’s also a lot to be said about cooler foods, that don’t need any cooking at all. Salads, fruit salads, salad-based sandwiches. You know, that wide and expansive array of dishes.
Now, recently, I’ve been having some health problems that could have been tied to any number of relatively scary medical issues. Turns out, as far as basic medical tests can tell, I have none of those issues. According to my blood work, I’m entirely within standard operating form My symptoms therefore met the medical analysis of: “I dunno, maybe it’s all tied to your recently developed anxiety…in which case I’m not the guy to help you.” This is incredibly common for me. In the vast majority of cases where I interact with medical professionals or authority figures like cops, firemen, etc, there’s almost always some element of confusion or inability to meaningfully interact. While I was an apartment manager for several years, if a tenant had an issue, I often had to let the teams in, and then just…stand around next to them, adding what little I knew to their reporting of the scene, or reading them labels of medications, so someone with more training could go do something more useful.
"I'll be over here if you need me, holding the lady's Pomeranian.
The only ‘useful’ advice he COULD give me for my physical health was that, since losing my more physical jobs and starting a blog about food, that I’ve gained an unhealthy amount of weight. A point I didn’t NEED to be reminded of, since pictures exist of what I used to look like, and what I currently do. But his point was well-taken, and since then, I’ve made an effort to eat more healthily. Salads, fruits salads…salad based sandwiches. You know, that…wide and expansive array of dishes.
This is all to explain why, when I got a recipe for a Vietnamese Chicken Salad, I decided to go for it. It seemed like a no-brainer: the meal would only take about 10 minutes to make, it wouldn’t need the oven, and it was exotic enough to sound appealing. We’d just need to shred a Costco rotisserie chicken, which we already bought every now and again for various chicken-based dishes. So we were all on board!
The Chicken didn't SAY she was for it, but we could tell she thought it was a good idea.
So let’s talk about why the name doesn’t work…and still kind of does.
Maybe Chicken Salad Was the Friends We Made Along The Way
So here’s why I don’t like the name “Vietnamese Chicken Salad Sandwich”: Vietnam HAS a Chicken Salad. It’s called Goi Ga, which directly translates to “Salad Chicken”, because Vietnamese puts adjectives AFTER the noun. It’s a mixture of chicken, cabbage, mint, carrot, and nuts, tossed in a sauce of sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, green onions, vinegar, chilis, garlic and ginger.
THIS, on the other hand, is a mixture of chicken, mint and …carrots, tossed in a dressing of mayonnaise, shallots, lime juice, ginger…fish sauce… chili-garlic paste… Oh. These are…basically the same recipe. Except with fewer veggies, since the Vietnamese version is a literal “Salad with Chicken in it”, while American Chicken Salad is “diced chicken in mayonnaise, with other ingredients”, and using mayonnaise instead of vinegar.
Here is a completely random example, taken from who-knows-where.
This is because American Chicken salad has its roots in French cooking techniques, where the original recipes for Chicken Salad calls for chicken, minced anchovies, vinegar…lemon juice…This is Chicken in a vinaigrette. IT’s objectively MORE like the Vietnamese version than the American one! What the hell is going on?
Well, Confused Jon, I’m glad you asked. I’m also glad this all came up, because it feels MUCH more interesting than what I had ‘planned’: when I started writing this post, I didn’t actually know Vietnam had a chicken salad, because I do my research AFTER I start writing, like an asshole. I was just going to complain that this was clearly an American Chicken Salad touched up with various Asian ingredients, and that it was only called “Vietnamese” because the most common brand of Chili-Garlic sauce in America is made by a Vietnamese immigrant.
This is not Sriracha, though it looks like it. And is made by the same guy. Look, I'll explain later.
But, hey, talking about where the hell Chicken Salad comes from sounds much more interesting than debating whether “food created by Immigrants of country X” counts as ‘food from Country X’. And while It would have been NICE to talk about the dude who made a Sriracha empire, I can always do that on a Thursday post. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just read all the information I can find on Chicken Salad, and explain it to you.
2 hours and 20+ tabs later...
Okay, we’re DEFINTELY not fitting this into today’s post. Jesus Christ, this history is a mess. So we’ll tackle THAT on Thursday, and come back for Huy Fong Foods another time. (We’ll also talk about smokers another time. That’s twice I’ve pushed that post back, now. If only there were some kind of way to better structure one’s goals and events, to organize them according to a schedule. Sadly, as far as I know, no such method exists.)
Quick basic summary: back in the day, Chicken salads were just diced chicken in vinaigrette. Then Mayonnaise was invented, and France invaded Vietnam. Because it’s fucking shitty hauling mayonnaise thousands of miles on boats before refrigeration was invented (actually, shortly AFTER, but before it was widely utilized) it took them a while to get that shit over there. The idea was more easily relayed to America, who made the first “American Chicken Salad” sometime in the early to mid-1800’s. One of the first commercially sold chicken salads was invented in 1848.
Everyone good with all that? Hope you are, because it’s time to actually start “cooking”.
I’m The Man With No Plan
If all of this seems scatter-shot, it’s because it DEFINITELY is. Because I’m allowing it to be. For 3 reasons: the first is that, honestly, I was crammed a little for time this weekend. I spent 17.5 hours on a trip on Saturday, leaving at 4 am. This meant I had to call it an early night Friday, and Saturday to make up the lost time. Which connects to the second point: honesty, openness, and emotional relevance. Part of the reason I don’t write these very far ahead of time is because I want to be genuinely invested in this moment, with you guys. Sure, you can read these posts whenever you like, but for me, they’re snapshots of where my mind is, and how I’m doing. They’re presented sincerely and openly.
The third reason is because, as I noted earlier, this recipe is 3 steps and takes 10 minutes, so I needed to spend time on SOMETHING.
On dicing shallots and grating limes? Come on. We all got better things to do.
What? That’s honestly part of it. AND, interestingly, this all ties into the recipe itself, because I like to use thematic tie-ins. There’s a lot of mental plates spinning here, people.
See, the recipe calls for making a dressing, and then making the sandwiches. The salad ingredients don’t actually sit in the sauce very long before service. They CAN’T, by the directions of the recipe. You put some of the dressing on the BREAD before you put it on the chicken.
This aligns with classic Chicken Salad rules in the South US, and it kind of combines with some Asian ideals: by not marinating the chicken in the dressing, you allow the chicken separation as an ingredient; you let it stand as an equal to the sauce, not overpowering it.
And let me tell you, this sauce is READY to overpower some shit. As I rattled off earlier, in many ways this sauce is a ‘greatest hits’ of Asian flavors coming together. The salty brine of Fish sauce, the cutting acid of lime, the potent nasal sting of Ginger, and a complex sauce of red chilies and garlic, all hanging out together in a sweetened mayonnaise.
Also, and this is a small point of pride: this recipe was the first time I ever pulled off the ‘frozen ginger’ trick. See, if, like me, you like to buy ginger, but don’t have as many uses for it as you think, you can cheat: Just freeze the root, and grate off what you need later. Frozen ginger will last for months longer than fresh, but keeps the same zing! You don’t even need to peel it, as the freezing weakens the peel membrane.
Many of our successes look underwhelming to outsiders.
Anyway, once it’s mixed together, you need bread to serve this on. We went with a Croissant, because, as I mentioned back in the Fusion Cusine post, and slightly touched on earlier, Vietnamese food has been heavily influenced by French techniques and recipes. Both Banh mi and Pho would not exist without France’s culinary ‘suggestions’ for around 140 years.
Smear your positively potent Mayo on the culturally oppressive bread, acquiring condiment-based justice, then lay down some lettuce, and get some veggies to go with the chicken. Chopped Mint and grated carrot give sweetness and some lifting herbal pep, in reverse order.
The fresh herbal zip of carrot is underestimated.
After that, you just toss the veggies and chicken in the sauce you’ve made, and boom, you’ve got Vietnamese Chicken Salad. The original recipe says it makes 4 servings, but honestly, I don’t know how you’re supposed to fit THIS MUCH SALAD on only 4 sandwiches. We made 5 and they were still a little overloaded.
These look a little like weird alien heads.
As for taste, personally I thought they were pretty good. Nate wasn’t as big a fan, as he’s sensitive to mint, (a fact I didn’t know until he was complaining about it after his first sandwich) but he took a second sandwich, so it must have at least been tolerable. My mother thought it needed a little more ‘something’, which typically implies that a dish wasn’t salted enough, and I agree, it did feel like it was missing some elusive element. She also thought it was a little too spicy, a point she would later return to at a wine tasting: when told that a specific wine would ‘go well with spicy foods’, she noted “then it’ll go with anything that Jon makes.” Before laughing and apologizing. I’d have been upset, but I was busy crying in corner. Not over the accusation. I had found a container labeled “Habanero Salt” and, compulsively, tried it, to discover that, oh buddy, did it know what it was doing. Which is in some ways proof enough of her claim.
Anyway, I’ll almost certainly make the sandwiches again sometime. A little less mint, a little more salt, and we’ll see if we can’t nail this recipe to greatness.
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THURSDAY: WE’RE NOT TOO CHICKEN TO TALK CHICKEN SALAD.
MONDAY: LET’S TAKE A BREAK FROM ASIAN FUSION, AND POP OVER TO THE OTHER DIET MY DOCTOR SUGGESTED: MEDITERRANEAN. WITH A SALAD OF BITTERSWEET…”SUCCESS”.
Vietnamese Chicken Salad Sandwich
¾ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp minced shallot
1 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp grated fresh (or frozen) ginger
2 tsp fish sauce
Minced zest of 1 lime
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Salt to taste
4-6 croissants, sliced baguette, or whatever bread you like
3 cups diced rotisserie chicken
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup shredded carrot
4-6 leaves of lettuce
1. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Chill up to 8 hours.
2. Prepare the bread (slicing in half if needed), and spread 1 tbsp of dressing on the bottom half of each sandwich, topping the dressing with a lettuce leaf.
3. Mix remaining dressing with chicken, mint, and carrot, and portion onto bread. Top, and serve.