I was buzzing along the freeway at a roaring 20 miles an hour earlier (I do live in California, after all), contemplating my day. I had a meeting in a nearby city this morning, several imperative errands to run, a few not-so-imperative errands to run, and plenty of work I needed to complete.
I was also feeling a little harried about dinner. It’s not always clear how many people will be sitting around my table each evening. Some evenings, it’s just bunny girl, Mocha dog, the crazy conure, and me home at dinnertime. Other days I’m wondering how to stretch a two person meal to cover five or more. I don’t like to let anyone leave the table hungry, so on those days I need to get extra creative.
Last night, I made dinner before my almost-daughter arrived. It was one of my favorite go-to I-don’t-know-who-all’s-coming-to-dinner-but-I’ve-got-it-covered meals.
Once upon a time, I loosely followed the recipe described on the back of the Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n package. What’s evolved since then is delightfully easy, can be made ahead, and is loved by everyone. Even omnivores fill their plates a second — and sometimes even a third — time and marvel (yes, marvel!) at how good this is. It’s the best, so I made it again tonight – and it disappeared once again. So warm up your printer or grab your pad of paper. This one’s a keeper!
Mandarin Orange Chick’n Salad
- 1 package Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n, prepared as directed, diced, and tossed with included sauce
- 1 large package shredded coleslaw veggie mix or shredded cabbage (red and green cabbage is more festive)
- 1 medium package shredded carrots
- 2 cups sliced and chopped shiitake mushrooms
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup cilantro paste
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 package rice noodles
- 1 bottle cooking oil (canola or vegetable)
To begin, you’ll need a very large salad bowl.
Prepare the Gardein as directed, then dice the pieces into small chunks of chick’n.
Place in your very large bowl and toss it with the contents of the included sauce packet. Add the shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, sliced green onions, and chopped shiitake mushrooms. Toss to mix.
In a large measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the cilantro paste, rice vinegar, olive oil, and soy sauce. Pour over the salad and toss.
This is the point at which you can cover the salad and keep it in the fridge until it is time to serve. But there is one final detail that really adds a bit of flair. While you can prepare this next part ahead as well, I always wait because it’s too cool not to show off. If you do this step ahead, however, don’t add this ingredient until you’re ready to serve your meal. Adding this too early allows the moisture in the salad to destroy the wonderful texture it adds.
Now, before we can move on, I must bring you back to a time I like to call “The 80s.” Back then, in the 80s, before Michael Keaton was Batman, he was Mr. Mom. This was also before he was Beetlejuice (don’t say it three times!) and the lesser known but fargin wonderful Johnny Dangerously.
Anyway, in Mr. Mom, Michael Keaton’s character makes dinner for his wife, played by Terri Garr. She’s working late and he tosses some noodles into a pan of oil and they blossom dramatically. When I first saw this, I fell in love with those noodles. My only problem was that no one I asked knew what those magical noodles were.
You see, this was back in the olden days, before we had the internet available for answering important questions and obtaining life-changing information such as “Mr. Mom Making Dinner Scene Kind of Noodles?” If you want a laugh, type in some variation of that sentence now and you’ll see that I’m not the only one who spent years on a quest to discover the name of the “oriental noodles that go WOOSH”!
These were the questions of the 80s, my friends. It was a more innocent time. A time before Batman reboots and Beetlejuice… (Whew! I’d better not say that name again.)
Back then, some of us just wanted to know how Mr. Mom cooked noodles.
It took me AGES to discover that these magical noodles are rice noodles. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I learned this, and it was pretty much like surprise Christmas. I hooted and hollered and uncooked white noodle sticks snowed down on my kitchen floor like snowflakes at the climax of a holiday movie. (It gets less messy when you get the hang of it, but it’s awfully fun when you haven’t yet!)
Now, I have to put on my grown up hat for the serious part:
Be very careful with the hot oil. This may go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Hot oil burns, and those burns hurt for a long, long time. Despite your rollicking good time with the noodles, keep the little ones (both human and animal variety) out of the kitchen while you do this.
Do not get water on the tongs during this process. Water on the tongs will cause the hot oil to spit and may cause you to get burned. Please be careful. It’s a noodle party, MoFo-ers, but it’s a controlled noodle party. Beware of the oil and be careful with yourself and all of your lovelies, please.
To prepare them, heat at least two inches of oil in a large, high-sided pot to about 400 degrees and grab a pair of metal tongs. I have found that it’s best to watch the pot as the old adage is true and if you keep watching it and checking the temperature, you can prevent it from boiling. Don’t let it boil or get too hot. Your noodles will turn an unappealing brown and burn before you can retrieve them and you may require fans and a small army to stop the smoke alarm’s persistent shrieking. I use a cooking thermometer to keep track of my oil’s temperature.
Pull the noodles apart to form small bunches. Do this down low in your sink because those noodles can really get airborne if you do this on your counter. I’ve found that I can contain them even better if I use a sharp pair of kitchen shears to cut them in the sink.
Drop the bundle of noodles into the hot oil. They will immediately sizzle, blossom, and rise to the top of the oil. Quickly use your tongs and flip them over one time. There is often a bit more of a sizzle as any previously protected area is placed in the oil. Then quickly remove the noodles from the oil and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil and cool.
Remove the oil from the heat when you’re done noodling and allow it to cool before storing or discarding.
Take the noodles and place them in small bunches into the bowl, crushing them with your hands and tossing them with the salad mixture before adding another bunch. After the last bundle, toss all of the salad well to mix completely. You’re almost there! In fact, all you have left is to…
You can serve this with more soy sauce, salt, pepper, and anything else you and your guests enjoy in an Asian-themed dished. I’ve never had anyone stop at one serving yet. It makes a ton, but it’s never too much. It’s also very forgiving, so if you have enough unexpected guests that you’re concerned, simply add more shredded cabbage and carrots and whatever other ingredients you have on hand to stretch it to make sure everyone has enough, because it will disappear.
Every time I make it, it disappears almost as fast as the noodles go WOOSH!