Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad (Goi Bap Cai Ga)

  • Preparation: 20 mins
  • Cooking: 20 mins
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Servings: 4

Description Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad (Gỏi Bắp Cải Gà)

Unlike the other Vietnamese Salads, Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad (Goi Bap Cai) uses vinegar in the dressing, rather than lime juice, for its tart edge. Raw cabbage and vinegar are great partners here, just as they are in any coleslaw.
Using a mortar to make the dressing is important, as it allows the garlic and chile to bloom. First, pound the garlic and chile. When they have broken up, switch to a circular motion, using the pestle to mash the mixture against the curved walls of the mortar, an action Vietnamese cooks refer to as smearing (quết) food. A richly hued orange-red paste emerges that has a perfume and flavor that cannot be achieved with a machine or hand chopping.


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, ½ pound total
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • About ¾ cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 small head green cabbage, about 1 pound , quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander or cilantro leaves
  • 1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 6 tablespoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar

Method Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad (Gỏi Bắp Cải Gà)

1, Fill a small saucepan half full with water, add the salt, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the chicken breasts. When the water starts bubbling at the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly. Let stand for 20 minutes. The chicken should be firm yet still yield a bit to the touch. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve the light stock for another use ( see Note ) or discard. When cool enough to handle, shred with your fingers into thin pieces, pulling the meat along its natural grain. Put the chicken in a large bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
2, Meanwhile, put the onion in a small bowl and add the white vinegar just to cover. Set aside for 15 minutes; the vinegar will reduce the harshness of the onion. Drain well and add to the bowl with the chicken, along with the cabbage, carrot, and Vietnamese coriander.
3, To make the dressing, using a mortar and pestle, mash the chiles, garlic, sugar, and salt together into a fragrant orange-red paste. This releases and combines the oils from the chile and garlic. Scrape the paste into a bowl and add the fish sauce and rice vinegar, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt and to combine well.
4, Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss to mix well. The salad will wilt slightly. Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing the sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. Transfer to a serving plate, leaving any unabsorbed dressing behind, and serve.

Chef's Note

Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad (Gỏi Bắp Cải Gà) may be readied through step 3 up to 4 hours in advance. Cover the vegetables and chicken and refrigerate, and cover the dressing and leave at room temperature. Return the vegetables and chicken to room temperature before tossing.
Serve this Vietnamese Salad with a bowl of Basic Rice Soup . Use the light stock left over from poaching the chicken as part of the liquid for making the soup. At the table, invite guests to put some of the salad into their soup. It not only cools the soup a bit (helpful in a tropical climate such as Vietnam), but also adds interesting texture and flavor.
Omit the chicken to create a zesty Vietnamese slaw that tastes good with all kinds of barbecue.

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