Chef’s Secrets: Chinese Takeout Classics at Home

Magneto and I were watching Cutthroat Kitchen the other night, and the chefs were tasked to make Chinese Chicken Salad. None of the chefs made anything even resembling the classic dish that I grew up eating on both coasts, with shredded or chopped chicken that had been marinated in Asian spices, shredded veggies, crushed peanuts, and a soy-rice vinegar dressing.

All of that created a craving for the real deal, which I promptly set about creating. First, I marinated chicken tenders in soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger. I cooked it off, reserving the liquid to reduce down for the basis of my dressing. Once that was fully reduced (gotta get those chicken juices cooked so we don’t have the runs later!), I added peanut butter to the warm liquid, stirring it until it thickened and the peanut butter was fully dissolved. I set that aside to cool in the freezer, chopped up the chicken, crushed some peanuts, shredded some veggies (lettuce, cabbage, carrots), and went to work on my side dish.

Yum, chicken!

I can’t serve a salad alone with nothing next to it. It feels incomplete somehow. But I didn’t want to make anything that would compete with the complex yet clean flavors in this salad, so I grabbed a box of extra firm tofu from the fridge, dredged it in cornstarch, and fried it off in grapeseed oil at 350F.

It’s super easy: slice the tofu about 1/2 inch thick, cover in cornstarch, and let sit until the oil is heated through.

Make sure you’ve got all your sides covered in cornstarch!

Fry on both sides until coating is taking on some color and the oil stops bubbling (that’s how you know it’s done even though it’s pale).

Second side frying on the left, first side frying on the right. For contrast.

Blot and serve with sweet chili sauce (I like the one from Trader Joe’s).

Using extra firm tofu ensures that your golden tofu won’t fall apart during cooking or eating.

I assembled the salad by combining all the shredded veggies and half the chicken, tossing thoroughly. Then I sprinkled the rest of the chicken on top, drizzled dressing all over, and garnished with peanuts. SO EASY!

Regardless of how much training those chefs on Cutthroat Kitchen might have had, there’s no substitute for experience and technique gleaned from years of watching Asian moms make these Chinese takeout classics.

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