Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This Vietnamese chicken salad is a simple-to-assemble salad of cabbage, chicken, cilantro, and dressing that keeps well for several days in the fridge. It’s authentic through and through thanks to its notes of sour, sweet, salty, and heat.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This Vietnamese chicken salad recipe is authentic through and through and made with simply cabbage, carrots, chiles, peanuts, and leftover chicken tossed in an intriguingly tangy, sour, sweet, salt dressing. It makes enough to fill several Mason jars (or any portable container) to take to work and incite some lunch envy among your coworkers or it can be just the right amount to feed the family a weeknight dinner. Originally published January 7, 2017.Angie Zoobkoff

How To Make This Vietnamese Chicken Salad Even Easier

If you lack the time to slice, dice, and chop vegetables, simply grab a couple bags of premixed coleslaw mix at the grocery store. You know the one—with the blend of green and red cabbage along with a little carrot. It’ll work perfectly in this recipe.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

  • Quick Glance
  • 45 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 3 to 4
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients

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  • For the pickled cabbage
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3 tablespoons palm sugar or packed light brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound red cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 Fresno chile (or other hot chile that you prefer), halved, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound green cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • For the dressing
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the Vietnamese chicken salad
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken (such as from a roast chicken)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves (or, if you can find it, Vietnamese coriander or rau ram)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts

Directions

  • Make the pickled cabbage
  • 1. Whisk the vinegar, water, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt together in a medium bowl. Pour half the mixture into a second medium bowl. Add the red cabbage to one bowl along with half the carrot and chile. Add the green cabbage to the other bowl along with the remaining carrot and chile. (Alternatively, if you only want to buy a single head of cabbage, just substitute more green cabbage for the red and mix everything in a single bowl.) Refrigerate the cabbages until pickled, about 1 hour.
  • 2. Drain the cabbages, reserving 1/4 cup pickling mixture from the green cabbage.
  • Make the dressing
  • 3. In a small bowl, whisk the reserved pickling mixture with the fish sauce and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Assemble the Vietnamese chicken salad
  • 4. If you’re preparing the salad in a single large serving bowl, layer the green and red cabbage mixtures at the bottom of the bowl. Drizzle half the dressing over the cabbage. Top with the chicken, cilantro, and peanuts, and drizzle the remaining dressing on top. Toss gently to combine and serve immediately. (The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Do not toss with the dressing until just before serving.) If you’re preparing the salad in Mason jars, divide the remaining dressing among four 1-pint (473-ml) jars, then layer in the red and green cabbages, followed by the chicken. Top with the cilantro and peanuts and seal the jars with lids. Just before serving, shake each jar to evenly distribute the dressing and serve. (The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Do not toss with the dressing until just before serving.)

Vietnamese Chicken Salad Variations

  • Tired of chicken? Skip it. Use poached salmon or diced tofu in its place.

Recipe Testers Reviews

I loved the clean, fresh flavors of this Vietnamese chicken salad as well as its ease of preparation. In the time the cabbage mixture sat in the brine and became pickled, I cleaned and poached some boneless, skinless chicken thighs so that all I had to do when the vegetables had done their thing was assemble the salad.

If you want to really make this easy to get on your table, do what I did and rely on packaged coleslaw mix. I couldn't see buying both red and green cabbage, not when there are coleslaw mixes out there that contain both. My Trader Joe's had 9-ounce bags of shredded green and red cabbage complete with grated carrot. To me, that was a no brainer. The salad was very good for lunch that day, and I really enjoyed the small amount that I had leftover for a late breakfast the next day.

This Vietnamese chicken salad was a perfect dinner choice for me between going to holiday parties and needing some clean eating to redeem myself and wanting some leftovers that were easy to throw together after an evening yoga class. For folks who eat with their eyes, this one is ever so nice to look at with its rainbow layers and nice highlights of orange and red from the carrots and peppers, respectively. The salad had a nice bracing zing and acidity to it, and other than thinly slicing the cabbage and grating the carrots, it was easy enough because I used some shredded rotisserie chicken as the protein.

This is a personal preference, but I would turn the heat up a little with an extra Fresno chile or two. My husband agreed with all of the above and said he enjoyed "the texture contrast of the cabbage, peppers, and chicken” and that it was a “very clean but filling dish.” He, too, said that he’d “appreciate a little more kick.”

The salad makes great leftovers, too—the pickled flavor was enhanced by a night in the fridge, and the vegetables still remained very fresh and crisp. I didn’t serve this in Mason jars, but rather assembled in a bowl in the following way: red cabbage layer, green cabbage layer, then poured on a little dressing. I topped it off with the chicken, cilantro and roasted peanuts. The second night, the full amount of cabbage had already been pickled and drained so it was ready to go. I kept the dressing separate so I could dress the salad fresh that night. Although the recipe already has nice acidity, I would be tempted to try a squeeze of fresh lime juice over the salad next time or maybe substitute peanut oil for the olive oil.

If you’re going to make this for dinner, I would increase the amount of chicken or protein to a pound. As is, the recipe is definitely ample for 4 lunch size portions or 4 dinner portions when you have a lighter appetite.

I like the idea of this Vietnamese chicken salad because you can make the components ahead of time and put them together throughout the week for lunch. Packing it all in a Mason jar is the perfect way to transport everything.

I poached a couple of chicken breasts and shredded the meat once it had cooled. I only used green cabbage. The pickle took on flavor after about an hour and I let it sit for a bit longer and it didn't hurt anything. The time required is pretty minimal for getting about a week’s worth of lunches out of it. The prep time for the cabbage was about 15 minutes and the chicken I prepared while the pickle was in the fridge. All of the other components I could prep in bulk while multi-tasking. This took about an hour total with a lot of hands-off time. Not too taxing. Next time I'd make a slightly sweeter brine and cut the pepper down. Also, this dish is all chopping, slicing, grating, shredding, etc. You gotta like to prep for this one.

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Comments

  1. Olive oil? Not really Vietnamese, and where is the lime? Nothing screams more authenticity than forgoing rau ram with any chicken dish. This recipe is a pass for me.

    1. I respect your concerns, Clifford. Olive oil is a mild flavor that’s similar to but far healthier than the vegetable or soybean oil used in many Vietnamese restaurant versions of this dish. And yes, a squeeze of lime at the end could be lovely, too. As for rau ram, if you have a source, that’s magnificent! I’ve added that as a suggested option for those who can get their hands on it. You’re right, not quite completely authentic in terms of what you may be served streetside in Vietnam, and yet very, very close. And with all the principles of Vietnamese cuisine intact.

    2. Back in the early 80’s when my family first moved to suburban Connecticut from Vietnam (we were probably the last round of ‘Boat People’), rau ram wasn’t available anywhere, not even in Chinatown (1 1/2 hours away in NYC). So my mother used fresh mint and cilantro which were plentiful. As more Southeast Asian immigrants came to the state, the rau ram showed up at the local Asian grocery store that opened up in town. It’s not uncommon to find this chicken salad using other herbs. Bottomline: this chicken salad is still “authentic” with cilantro and mint. The rau ram is not an automatic stamp of authenticity, though it does give a wonderful flavor and fragrance without overwhelming the dish.

        1. @Renee, my mother’s recipe for Vietnamese Chicken salad (Goi Ga) is very similar to the one above. She didn’t really use lime. Just white vinegar and her nuoc cham (which sometimes had lime, but not always). She didn’t use a lot of oil, if any. At least I don’t recall oil being part of the dressing. But you’ve got the flavor profile correct.

          She often served this salad with chicken rice porridge (chao ga) since you had to poach the chicken and would end up with a rich flavorful broth that would be heartbreaking to throw out. So nothing was ever wasted.

          1. Nods. I love Vietnamese-style porridge and sooooo appreciate you sharing that trick. Frugality has, by and large, fallen by the wayside and that saddens me. Thank you for helping us all remember to do better and be better.

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