Monday, November 28, 2011

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

A salad is one of those dishes that is quite flexible, and usually just a matter of putting together whatever you have at hand, but a Vietnamese chicken salad is not a salad where I can just chuck together whatever salad ingredients I have in my fridge. Whenever I plan on making this salad, the first thing that I need is Vietnamese mint (rau răm) also known as laksa leaves. The problem is that Vietnamese Mint is not always readily available but I won’t have any other herb in this salad – not spearmint (which is the mint that most people would be familiar with) or coriander. I must have Vietnamese mint because the smell and flavour of it completes the Vietnamese chicken salad for me. It is eternally tied to the memories of how I make and eat it.

(In the city, Vietnamese mint can usually be found at the Lucky Supermarket on Brisbane street but on the weekend it was not available so I drove up to Mirrabooka to Hiep Hung Asian Grocery on Honeywell boulevard)

When I was young and went grocery shopping with my parents, I would help to pick out ingredients. Whenever I knew my mum going to make a Vietnamese chicken salad, I would run over to the fruit and vegetable section of the Asian supermarket and look for where all the fresh herbs were stored. Facing me would be rows and rows of green herbs. I didn’t know what their names were and could not tell a lot of them apart by sight, but I could identify what was what by smelling each one. I easily sniffed out the Vietnamese mint. I love the aroma of Vietnamese mint and the smell of it instantly makes me think of a Vietnamese chicken salad.

(Can you pick out which herb is Vietnamese mint?)

I have grown up eating Vietnamese food cooked by my parents. When I got older and started going out to eat with my friends, the weirdest thing for me was discovering that dishes that I knew and loved were being served to me differently. I have seen Vietnamese chicken salad appear in many forms but I am very wedded to the way my mum makes it. I find it hard to accept any other form as a Vietnamese chicken salad.

Not only does the salad require Vietnamese mint but the other secret to making it taste amazing is to lightly pickle the vegetables first.

So here's how I like my Vietnamese chicken salad and the way my mum taught me how to make it.


For the salad
•    500g of chicken (poached and shredded)
•    1/2 cabbage, finely shredded
•    1 carrot, thinly julienned into matchsticks
•    1 red onion, thinly sliced
•    white vinegar (for pickling the vegetables)
•    bunch of Vietnamese mint (rau răm), leaves picked off and sliced thinly
•    crushed roasted peanuts

(Vietnamese mint - rau răm)

For the dressing (nuoc cham)
•    2 tablespoons sugar
•    ½ cup water
•    ¼ cup rice vinegar
•    ¼ cup fish sauce
•    2 garlic cloves, crushed
•    1 red chilli, seeded and minced
•    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


Combine the cabbage, carrot and onion together in a large bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar over the top of the vegetables and thoroughly mix together. Leave for 10-15 minutes to lightly pickle. Gently squeeze out the excess water from the vegetables and leave in a colander to drain. The vegetables are now lightly pickled, moist and would have shrunk in volume.

(Before pic - shredded cabbage, carrot and onion)
 (After pic - pickled vegetables)

Put the pickled vegetables into a large bowl and add in the chicken and Vietnamese mint, and thoroughly combine.

(Shredded chicken)
(thinly sliced Vietnamese mint)
(All mix together)

To make the dressing – put the sugar, water, rice vinegar and fish sauce in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring until the sugar melts. Turn off the heat just before it reaches boiling point. Set aside to cool. Then add in the garlic, chilli and fresh lime juice.

Alternatively, instead of adding in the garlic/chilli I add in some pickled ground chilli

Serve the salad with the nuoc cham dressing and crushed peanuts on top.


  1. Vietnamese Chicken Salad is one of those dishes I absolutely love but never really know how to get it just right. It's the pickling!! I cannot wait to try this dish out :)

  2. Hi Liv :) Not all recipes for Vietnamese chicken salad require you to pickle the vegetables first but I think it makes a big difference to the end result. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Yum, that is my kind of salad, thanks so much for sharing!

  4. This salad is gold! I assume.

    And I completely identify with that 'not-quite-right' feeling you get when you see one of your childhood recipes messed with.

  5. Bookmarked for dinner this week! Thanks!

  6. That's one of my most fave salads. Love how colourful and vibrant it is :)

  7. Thanks for sharing and can't wait to try it. For interest, what brand of fish sauce do you use for salads/dipping sauces? There's so many to choose from. Thanks, Jo.

  8. Can't wait to make this! Love all the flavors in this dish!