I absolutely love the fresh, bright flavors in this salad.
This Vietnamese-inspired chicken salad features shredded chicken meat, shredded cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green onions, cucumber and avocado tossed with nuoc cham prominently featuring fish sauce and diced chilies and garlic. While avocado is not typically added to a Vietnamese-style salad I love the creamy texture it adds.
This Vietnamese sauce, nuoc cham, translates directly to “dipping sauce”. The versatile condiment is tangy, sweet, savory and spicy, making it a great addition to salads, a dipping sauce for spring rolls, as well as a marinade or sauce for grilled or roasted meats. While some prefer to use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic and chilies with a pinch of the sugar, I simply mince them before adding them to the other ingredients to cut down on dishes.
Key Ingredients in This Recipe
Palm sugar – While palm sugar is traditionally used, granulated sugar can easily be substituted in nuoc cham.
Fish sauce – Fish sauce adds an incredible, tangy and funky flavor and is made from fermenting fish over a long period of time.
Lime juice – The lime juice adds a bright, citrus element to the sauce. I recommend using freshly squeezed lime juice for the best flavor.
Bird’s eye chilies – Bird’s eye chilies or Thai chilies are the main source of heat in this recipe. The small, pointy chilies have an intense heat with a fruity flavor and have a rating between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units. Because they can be difficult to track down outside of Asian markets, I often buy a large bag of them and store them in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer.
Chicken – I add shredded chicken breast meat to this salad though rotisserie chicken or other leftover chicken can be used. The simple shredded chicken lets the flavor of the nuoc cham and texture of the crunchy vegetables shine.
Cabbage – I use a mandoline to finely shave the cabbage. I prefer the texture of the finely shredded cabbage to thicker cuts made with a knife. If you are not planning to use a whole cabbage, you can ask most grocery stores to cut the cabbage in half or quarters to reduce waste.
How to Make Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Nuoc Cham
Step 1: Make the nuoc cham
In a small bowl stir together the sugar and ¼ cup of warm water until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilies.
Step 2: Add ingredients to mixing bowl
Add the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green onions, and cucumber to a large mixing bowl. Toss to combine.
Step 4: Assemble and serve
Plate and top with the chicken and avocado then pour the nuoc cham over the top. Serve immediately.
Tips and Tricks for This Recipe
Based on availability the birdseye chilies can be swapped for minced serrano peppers or 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek (chili garlic sauce).
Swap the poached chicken for roasted or rotisserie chicken if needed.
Swap the shredded cabbage for another green like butter lettuce or chopped hearts of romaine.
To cook shredded chicken
Slice 1 large chicken breast in half lengthwise to allow for faster cooking. Place the chicken pieces in a medium saucepan in a single layer. Add just enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a simmer over medium heat, cooking until the chicken is just cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this spicy Vietnamese chicken salad recipe, I recommend checking out these: