Ever notice how, over the course of many years worth of family get-togethers, certain family members become famous for certain dishes? You know, these are Donna’s peanut butter cookies, Susan’s potato salad, Brian’s taco dip. Etc. And at some point, the family starts expecting these delicious creations, and Donna, Susan, and Brian become responsible for bringing them. Whether they like it or not.
My mom has such a dish — Chinese Chicken Salad. It’s got shredded cabbage, poached chicken, slivered almonds, tangy dressing, and — coolest of all — crunchy Ramen noodles. Although the recipe’s exact origin is subject to considerable dispute [she's rumored to have stolen it from a beloved aunt on her father's side!], she started bringing it to get-togethers of my dad’s family decades ago. Before too long she was required to bring it, because everyone just went crazy for the dang stuff. It’s her triumph, her calling card, her responsibility, her burden to bear. Mom’s Chinese Chicken Salad.
Want to hear something bratty? I’ve been her daughter my whole life, and I won’t go near the stuff. I tried it one time. On a day I had the stomach flu. I don’t need to fill in the blanks, do I? You get it. Once you have Chinese Chicken Salad going up, you don’t ever want to have it going down.
So I can’t do the Chinese Chicken Salad, but that doesn’t mean I’m not down for vaguely Asian dishes with chicken and Ramen noodles. On that note…
KUNG PAO CHICKEN RAMEN BOWLS (adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)
2 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 or 3), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
3 garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 and 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 (3-oz) packages ramen noodles (any kind, you discard the seasoning packets)
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
4 green onions, sliced thin
1. In large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp canola oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken pieces lightly with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet in a single layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned and cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Remove the chicken to medium bowl.
2. Add second tbsp of oil to the skillet and heat until hot. Add red bell pepper and peanuts and cook until pepper is softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove mixture into bowl with chicken, leave as much oil as possible behind in the skillet.
3. Add garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to remaining oil in skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Stir in chicken broth. Break bricks of ramen into small chunks and add to the skillet. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook, tossing ramen constantly with tongs to separate, until ramen is just tender but there is still a bit of liquid in the pan, 2-4 minutes.
4. Stir in hoisin sauce and vinegar and continue to simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in chicken, peppers, and peanuts. Sprinkle with green onions before serving.
This was a BIG hit in my house — I think my husband’s exact words were, “Oh YEAH.” The original recipe called for 4 packets of ramen, but I thought that was a little much and was happy with how it turned out with 3. This would serve four people, but with how ravenously we ate it up, we ended up with only enough leftovers for me to take in my lunch the next day. (it was great the next day too!)