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The first time I made this salad, I didn’t pay attention to how I made it, and ate it so fast I can’t remember what it tasted like.
Sauté radishes in butter with a little sale. Off the heat, add Nuoc Cham (fish sauce, Thai chile, slivered garlic, lime juice, sugar) and shredded chicken and mix. Pile on top of a bed of watercress and cilantro -- rice too if you have it -- and mix.
So I made it again, assuming that I liked it the first time. And I've kept making it. I now know that I like it. Just look at how much it is has going for it:
- Radishes, poached in brown butter
- A dressing (that’s really a classic Vietnamese dipping sauce) that’s tangy and spicy and a little puckery
- Chicken—required protein, where leftover rotisserie chicken goes to heaven
- Rice, so it’s a meal
- Wisps and doodles of spicy greens—kale, watercress, what have you
The brown-butter-poached radishes are the brain children of Sarah Britton. Warming fish sauce by way of hot vegetables is a trick I learned from Momofuku’s Genius Brussels sprouts recipe: It renders the sauce round, substantial, almost meaty (but any more than that transient heat and the fish sauce gets funky, and not in a good way). The Brussels sprouts recipe also taught me to eat cilantro stems.
The idea of a warm chicken salad came from Merrill’s mom. Or, more specifically, the idea of warming shredded chicken with dressing in a pan so your leftover chicken takes on the dressing. And then drizzling them—chicken and sauce-dressing—over greens.
I wouldn’t dare, when making a salad, to butter my radishes, or warm my fish sauce, or wilt my greens—or rather, would never think of it. But let yourself start moving in the kitchen and a recipe or three might pop into your mind, like trivia you never thought you'd need. Let your fingers follow along, and sometimes you end up with something like this: a big, messy salad with inspiration from all over. So good you can't remember. Wise cooks will say “I told you so” right to your face, and it will be worth it.
For the nuoc cham
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime zest
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 2 red or green Thai chiles, halved lengthwise, and sliced into half moons
For the salad
- 1 bunch radishes (about 12), cleaned, trimmed, and cut in quarters (or half if they're tiny)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken (sometimes I buy a rotisserie chicken for this very purpose)
- 1 cup cooked long-grain brown rice
- 2 cups watercress, baby kale, or other spicy green
- 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems