A Chile Chicken Salad Ushers in the Year of the Snake

Year of the snake? Gotta say I was hoping for dogs or rabbits—something a bit more cuddly. See, we’ve got loads of snakes here in New Mexico. There’s even a handy guide called New Mexico Snakes Information for New Mexico Homeowners (versus the one for homeowners in New York City, I guess). Turns out there are 46 species of snake in New Mexico but only 8 are poisonous (only?). After I finished the NMSIFNMH (my abbreviation) I did some more research. Turns out that for Chinese New Year, the snake is actually very propitious. It says that in ancient China the belief was that a snake in the house meant no one would ever starve.

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So I thought, give the year of the snake a chance. To celebrate Chinese New Year (belatedly) I whipped up a batch of Chinese Chile Chicken Salad. It was inspired by one of the best food writers on Chinese food today. Actually, I’d say the best. Her name is Fuchsia Dunlop – if you like Chinese food, check her out.

She does a great cold chicken dish served with a spicy dressing. I’ve jazzed it up with some chopped almonds, sesame seeds and cucumber but you can do your own riff – toss in some bean sprouts, julienned carrot – go crazy. The real secret – surprise, surprise – is the chile oil. Make your own with chile flakes and all the sudden you’ll be popping it on everything except cereal and dog food.

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As for the chicken, I like to poach a whole bird – that way I can get a couple of meals out of it (good in these belt-tightening times plus you can use the poaching liquid to make stock). If that all sounds way too Martha Stewart for you, then use chicken breasts or a store-bought rotisserie chicken.

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So a big Chile Trail welcome to the Year of the Snake. I’m sure it’s going to be a good one. And if it’s not, don’t worry. Next year is the Year of the Horse. Yee-haw!

Chile Chinese Chicken Salad

This salad is super crunchy, zesty and flavorful. Add the dressing right before serving so everything stays crisp and fresh.

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2-3 servings

Salad

5 cups Napa cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1” knob of ginger, peeled and julienned
2 cups shredded chicken

Dressing

2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seed oil
3 Tbsp chile oil, including both the oil & seeds (recipe below)
2 tsp sugar

Chile Oil

1 ½ cups vegetable oil
½ cup Los Chileros Chile Pequin Crushed

Garnish

Julienned cucumber
Sesame seeds
Chopped almonds

If possible, make the chile oil the day before (or even earlier). This allows the oil to cool down and for it to take on more of the chile flavor. The oil will keep very happily in your refrigerator indefinitely as long as the chile flakes are completely covered in oil.

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To make the chile oil, heat the oil in a saucepan until it is hot but not simmering. While the oil is warming, place the chile flakes in a clean glass jar (an old jam jar will do). When the oil is hot, remove it from the heat and pour into the jar with the chile flakes. The flakes will sizzle slightly. If the oil is too hot, pour in some room temperature oil to reduce the temperature.

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing including the chile oil and pour over the salad. Toss, serve in bowls and garnish with julienned cucumber, sesame seeds and chopped almonds.

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