This Vietnamese chicken salad is perfect for summer; it’s bright, fresh, crisp, and just a tiny bit (optionally) spicy. It’s so good on its own, as a side, or as a taco or burrito filling.
This salad holds a special place in my heart because it’s one of the first things Steph ate at my parents house years ago at one of our first family dinners together.
Confession: I don’t like pronouncing things in their native accent. When speaking in Vietnamese to my parents, I’ll say English words with a Vietnamese accent, and vice versa when speaking to my Vietnamese friends in English, I will say Vietnamese words with an English accent. Same goes with Japanese. It’s only after I “know” everyone is switching languages that I can switch accents. It’s a weird mental block I just can’t get over.
But many people like to know how to pronounce foreign language words properly, especially when it comes to food. Goi ga means chicken salad, but pronouncing it can be a little finicky. Since Vietnamese is a tonal language, if you go one note too high with goi, you will be saying “chicken package” (not that bad), and if you go one note too low, you will be saying “call the chicken on the telephone” (pretty bad, mostly funny).
So, how do you pronounce goi ga properly? Using the power of rhythm. To pronounce goi, you want to rhyme it exactly with how you’d intonate “Would you like some koi?” To pronounce ga, you want to rhyme and intonate it as with the last syllable in pizza. That’s it.
Back to the salad: this is a simple crisp raw cabbage salad with fresh herbs and lightly poached chicken. Traditionally the herbs are what my mom would refer to as rau song – fresh greens – which means lots of Vietnamese herbs like Vietnamese coriander, perilla, thai basil, mint, etc.
We live 15 minutes drive from a large Vietnamese supermarket where those herbs are plentiful and under $1 a bag, but honestly, I’d much rather walk to the corner grocery store and buy whatever they have, which means just cilantro and mint. It’s just as good, and way less work, and much better for the environment.
The chicken is poached Hainanese style, which is not a thing that’s done in Vietnam but I’ve loved it since being married to Steph, and it’s not extra work so it’s silly not to. It just means that you poach the chicken with ginger and green onions. The resulting broth is one of the best, easiest chicken broths around too, and you can use it to boost your Hainanese Chicken Rice game.
If you hate cutting cabbage, we bought one of these cabbage peelers back in Japan and love it. They use it for making the massive amounts of cabbage you need for tonkatsu. It works perfectly here too. One note on purple cabbage, it’s very pretty but be careful of staining everything purple. We use a black cutting board on purpose when working with purple cabbage.
Last but not least, this salad is wonderful as meal prep and also makes a perfect taco or burrito filling, as is, with no changes or sauces needed. Just fry up a couple of tortillas and go to town. The avocado isn’t optional, by the way. Highly essential.
Goi Ga – Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe
- 1 green onions
- 1 inches ginger about 25g, cut into matchsticks
- 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs
For the dressing room
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 Thai bird’s eye chili sliced, optional
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce see note
- juice of 1 lime
For the salad
- 1 small cabbing shaved or thinly sliced
- 1/4 small onions sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint roughly chopped
- 1 cup cilantro roughly chopped
- 1 ripe avocado cubed
Bring 2 cups of very lightly salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the green onions, half of the ginger, and the chicken. Add water as needed to cover your chicken. When the water comes back up to a boil, drop the heat to low and poach, keeping the liquid below a boil, for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make your dressing. Combine the garlic, chili, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce in a jar, along with the remaining ginger and 1 cup of cold water. Stir or shake well to mix, then set aside.
When the chicken is done, remove the thighs from a bowl or cutting board. Save the chicken broth for another use. Shred the chicken.
In a large platter or salad bowl, combine your cabbage, onion, mint, cilantro, and shredded chicken. Top with the dressing, and then toss well. Top with your cubed avocado(es) before serving.
I also topped the salad with commercial fried onions/shallots.