The quantity of herbs heaped onto nearly every dish at every Vietnamese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. And this time of year, I crave nothing more than eating this kind of food: fresh, light, fragrant. Summer rolls lined with mint, green papaya salad speckled with Thai basil, chicken salad loaded with scallions and cilantro — oh Nam Phuong! You feel so far away.
The chicken salad pictured here is made with a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar — no fish sauce, no lime juice — but it very much resembles what I love about a Vietnamese chicken salad: big, plump pieces of chicken, lots of herbs, a nice bite in the dressing. If you can get your hands on Thai basil, it’s particularly good in this salad, but if you can’t, a mix of tarragon and basil offers a similar flavor.
This is another nice no-mayo salad to serve at a summer gathering or to bring to a potluck. I love a classic chicken salad, but I love the lightness of this one, too. And there’s only one thing to keep in mind while making it: less is not more. Don’t be afraid to heap on those herbs.
- 1 small chicken (about 3 lbs. if you can find one)
- 1 large red onion
- 2 to 4 tablespoons white balsamic (or other) vinegar
- kosher salt
- 3 to 4 scallions
- a ton of herbs: basil, tarragon, cilantro, Thai basil, mint
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 or 2 more tablespoons
- freshly cracked black pepper
- crushed red pepper flakes or a mince hot chili (optional)
- Place chicken in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Partially cover, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Let chicken cool completely in liquid. This takes a few hours. (Alternatively, simmer chicken until it's done.)
- When ready to make the salad, thinly slice the onion and place in a bowl. Cover with two tablespoons of vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Meanwhile pull chicken from bones and place in a large mixing bowl. Slice the scallions somewhat thinly (or not) and add to the bowl. Give the herbs a rough chop and add to the bowl. Add the macerated red onions and the ¼ cup of olive oil. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Add pepper flakes or chili to taste.
- Use your hands to toss everything together. Take a taste. If necessary add another tablespoon of vinegar and olive oil. Add more salt if necessary. Toss again and taste until seasoning is right. Serve.