Madame Wu’s Chicken Salad

  • Prep Time
    1/2 hour
  • Cook Time
    2 hours or more
  • Serving
    4
  • View
    754

THINGS YOU NEED FOR THIS RECIPE: 

YOU NEED A STEAMER BASKET FOR THE SUGAR SNAP PEAS.  YOU WILL WIND UP USING THIS STEAMER BASKET WAY MORE THAN YOU EXPECT.  YOU CAN GET IT AT AMAZON. COM –https://amzn.to/3K9yhtN

YOU CAN ALSO BUY MADAME WU’S COOKBOOK AT AMAZON.COM! https://amzn.to/3Q575QD

You don’t have to smoke a chicken to make this salad.  In fact, you don’t have to smoke anything at all.  A rotisserie chicken is a great substitute for the smoked chicken.  And instead of cabbage, you could use iceberg or romaine lettuce. This salad which was so popular during the decade when I had really big hair and a tiny waist (that would be the 90’s) is not really “Chinese,” and the origins of the recipe are murky but the writer at Delish.com said:

The exact origin of “Chinese Chicken Salad” is unknown. However, legend has it that it was invented in the 1960s at Madam Wu’s in Los Angeles because Cary Grant requested it. Sunset magazine published a recipe in 1970, and Wolfgang Puck created his own version of it in the 80’s.

That brings us to Madame Wu.  I sooo wish I could have eaten at her restaurant in Santa Monica before it closed in 1998.  She looks so elegant and self-confident.  And the restaurant looks so interesting and exotic.

Madame Wu was much loved by Hollywood celebrites.

Saveur magazine writer Vivan Ho wrote about Sylvia Wu when she died at age 106 in 2022:  A California culinary legend died last month at age 106. Sylvia Cheng Wu, known lovingly as Madame Wu by her celebrity regulars including Mae West and Robert Redford, owned Madame Wu’s Garden, a Santa Monica restaurant and Hollywood hotspot that operated from 1959 to 1998. She leaves behind two sons, a gaggle of grandkids, and—her biggest claim to fame—what is likely the original recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad.

[Madame Wu] started small, opening the 40-seat Wu’s Garden in 1959. The restaurant was an immediate hit, with stars like Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, and Elizabeth Taylor flocking there for Peking duck, bird’s nest soup, and—perhaps most importantly—to be fawned over by the charming owner.

One of Wu’s celebrity regulars was Cary Grant. One night, in the early days of the restaurant, Grant pulled Wu aside and told her about a distinctive chicken salad he’d tried at another (unnamed) restaurant. Grant was neither the first nor the only customer to request an off-the-menu salad, her son Patrick Wu told me in a phone interview. But Grant was Wu’s celebrity crush—she used to swoon over his photo as a young girl in China—and the two would go on to be lifelong friends. After that conversation, according to Patrick, the chef “put her thinking cap on,” went into the kitchen, and proceeded to make culinary history.

Madam Wu’s chicken salad recipe was slightly different from the one I found in Parade magazine in 2007 which was authored by Sheila Lukins.  For some reason, I cut out this recipe and have kept it in my recipe file for years.  In comparing other Chinese chicken salad recipes, I think this one is the best.  Of course, I added several components to the recipe that Lukins published, such as slivered steamed sugar snap peas and Mandarin oranges.  But, then that’s the beauty of cooking isn’t it?  I made this salad my own and, trust me, it rocked!  I think Madame Wu would have approved.

Ingredients

Smoked Chicken

Salad Dressing

Cabbage Salad

    Directions

    Make a smoker packet for your grill by enclosing some black pomegranate tea leaves and orange rind in foil. Poke some holes in the packet. Fire up the Big Green Egg! Use the convector accessory, and set up the grill up to smoke at 290 or 300 degrees. Once you have a good fire going, add a handful of cherry smoking chips and then the smoking packet you made with the tea. The chips and smoking packet go directly on the coals. And then the convector accessory legs up goes next. And then the grill grate. Watch your fire carefully. This is the challenging part of this recipe.

    Step 1

    Prepare the chicken for smoking. Put a head of roasted garlic in the cavity of the chicken. Sprinkle liberally with salt and rub the chicken with mustard. Tie it so that the wings and legs are no longer akimbo!

    Step 2

    When the fire is a steady 290 to 300 degrees, put the chicken in a foil pan that has holes in it (I bought a bunch of these at the Bed Bath and Beyond sale). Obviously, this is optional! And then smoke for 30 to 40 minutes per pound until the chicken is done. Let rest and then shred or slice or chop for the salad and set aside.

    Step 3

    Make the Salad Dressing: Whisk all ingredients together and put in the frig.

    Step 4

    Fry the Wontons: slice them into thin strips and fry for a few seconds at 375 degrees. Drain and set aside.

    Step 5

    Steam the snap peas. Do this in a small saucepan with 2 inches of water and a steamer basket. Don't overcook. They should be crispy and very green. Then slice them into thin strips or slivers. Set aside.

    Step 6

    Toast the almonds on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool and set aside..

    Step 7

    Assemble the salad. Put the cabbages in a bowl and coat with dressing. Toss. Add the snap peas, scallion, bell peppers, almonds and chicken. Toss again and add more dressing if desired. Top with oranges and wonton strips. Garnish with parsley if desired.

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