A while back, I was walking with one of my younger brothers and having a conversation. We were ambling past a variety of food stands and restaurants and the conversation went something like this:
Brother: Oh, they’re using the old sriracha trick. Classic move. Nice. And sriracha mayo, that stuff is so good. I swear, sriracha makes anything delicious.
From this it should be patently clear that we are profound people prone to having very profound conversations. Actually, we do have some pretty good conversations, but sriracha doesn’t demand conversations. Sriracha calls for a simple, it could even be wordless if you choose, acceptance of its awesomeness.
Sure, in foodie circles prone declaring things “in” or “out,” sriracha is well on its way to being yesterday’s news. And sure, there are other Asian chili sauces and pastes that are more nuanced and complex in their flavoring. But still, sriracha is grand, and eminently useable, and I accept that. I embrace that.
Sriracha, also known sometimes as rooster sauce (I believe this is because one of the most widely used brands has a rooster on the bottle), is a piquant blend of hot chilis and garlic. It is smooth and red and lip-tingling with an acidic hit from some vinegar, and – though staunch traditionalists may shudder – can go on very nearly anything. Actually, I just did a random search and found someone has attempted to make a list of things sriracha does not go on and managed to produce only 5 (including tiramisu and your white shirt). It’s like ketchup’s firebrand cousin who is into activities like base jumping and bull fighting.
I had the conversation with my brother in my mind the last time I went to go make “my” curried chicken salad. As though it had wrestled the helm from my hands, the memory caused me to veer off from my spice cabinet-bound course. Instead, I opened to the door to the refrigerator and snagged the squirt bottle of chili sauce off the shelf. The rest is practically history.
I naturally felt that the dried fruit and other niblets I put into a curried chicken salad had no place in a spicy sriracha chicken salad, so I gathered together some other South East Asian leaning ingredients instead. To the dressing I added a nip of ginger and a dash of fish sauce plus a few herbs with similar persuasions, namely Thai basil and cilantro. To the meaty pieces of roast chicken I added a sweet, crunchy mix of finely chopped bell pepper, cucumber, and sugar snap peas.
First I ate it piled on a bed of lightly dressed lettuce. It was spectacular. Then, taking a cue from banh mi sandwiches, I stuffed some of the chicken salad and a bit more cilantro into a crusty baguette smeared with some smashed avocado. Amazing.
Since that first deviation from making my old standard curried chicken salad (a mere month or so ago), I have made chicken salad a full 6 times, and 6 times out of 6 it has been this spicy sriracha version. Which is not to say I don’t still love curried salad, but seriously, sriracha makes everything delicious.
Spicy Chicken Salad (serves 4-6)
- 1 approximately 2-lb. chicken, roasted by your preferred method (I use Barbara Kafka’s high heat method. Sometimes I just roast chicken legs instead. You could also use a rotisserie chicken if need be.)
- 1/2 cup good mayonnaise (preferably homemade with all olive oil, if you can swing it)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoon sriracha
- 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2-3 dashes of fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon each, minced Thai basil (regular basil will work too) and fresh cilantro
- 1 scallion, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow)
- 1/2 cup chopped sugar snap peas
- 1/2 cup seeded and finely chopped English cucumber (peel left on)
- After the chicken has been roasted, let it cool to room temperature (in the meantime, take off the crispy skin and hand it out to all those waiting for lunch as something splendid to nibble on). Once cool, remove the meat from the bones and use your fingers to shred it all into bite-sized pieces. (Save the carcass for making stock, of course!) Transfer the chicken to a large bowl and toss with a couple of pinches of salt.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, rice vinegar, 1 Tbs. sriracha, ginger, fish sauce, basil, cilantro and scallion. Pour this dressing over the chicken and toss. Taste and if you’d like more heat and flavor (you know you do), add the second Tbs. of sriracha and toss again.
- Add the bell pepper, snap peas, and cucumber and toss until everything is well coated with the dressing. Taste and add additional salt or fish sauce to taste.
- Serve over a bed of lettuce sprinkled with finely chopped, toasted peanuts if you can eat nuts. Or, go all banh mi style, and stuff the salad into sliced baguettes along with some smashed avocado and some more cilantro and cucumber slices. This salad will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but you will likely have to stir it up again before serving to reincorporate the juices from the cucumber that accumulate.