Vietnamese Chicken Salad

One of my favorite word nerd activities is making up new words. Where would we all be without frexcitement, fouscous, opkeptical, and now: jicamadas.

What the devil is an jicamada? A tostada made of jicama, of course.

However, if I want new readers to find my recipes, I need to give the recipes titles that regular people can understand. Amongst us friends, this recipe will forever be known as Vietnamese Jicamadas. But for the sake of the rest of the world, it’s Vietnamese Chicken Salad.

Let’s get a few more things out of the way before we dive into the recipe:


Credit where it’s due: this idea was inspired by two recipes I read last week: the Food Lovers’ Tacos with Jicama Shells and this recipe on TheKitchn.


I brined the chicken first, and I recommend you do the same. However, if you’re in a hurry, you can skip the brining step, and you will be OK. The chicken might not be quite as tender and flavorful, but it will still be very tasty when nestled under the Vietnamese relish.


A. I’m not sure that this recipe technically qualifies as fusion cuisine — a.k.a., a mashup of Asian and Mexican cuisine because “tostada” literally means “toasted” and my jicamada is not toasted, nor could it really be toasted, so it’s not really Mexican and, therefore, not really fusion (words matter, people!) — but I like to pretend, so… I just declared myself a fusion chef.

B. This is clearly not authentic Vietnamese food… it’s “inspired by.” I replaced the traditional peanuts with cashews, used basil instead of cilantro, and just tossed together things that I thought would taste delicious, based on my memory of a  bahn mi sandwich I ate on a sunny sidewalk in New York in 2006 (while wearing a white shirt, army green pants, a red plaid tie, and black Converse. I remember every detail of that day because it was so awesomely fun).


This is not first date food because you have to eat with your hands and sometimes, just like when you eat tacos (Do you remember what it’s like to eat tacos?!), the toppings fall off onto your plate. But that means when have hoovered in your last bite of jicamadas, you can scoop up the remnants from the plate for one last, perfect bite.


These guys are awesome summer food: cool, crisp, flavorful, light, and easy to make. You could make them half the size and serve them at a party, even! The jicamada bed is a sweet, crunchy balance to the peppery bite of the relish, and the little bit of mayo adds a creamy kiss that gets close to recreating the magic of a bahn mi sandwich. You can play around with the ingredients: cucumbers would be a good addition or substitution in the relish, and you can swap in cilantro for the basil.


vietnamese chicken salad

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
a.k.a.,  Vietnamese Jicamadas

Serves 2-4 | Prep 10 minutes | Brine 2 hours | Cook 20 minutes | Whole30 compliant

The chicken:
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos or homemade substitute

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • a few fresh basil leaves

The vegetables:
  • 1 medium to large jicama

  • 2 medium carrots, minced

  • 4 medium radishes, minced

  • 1 small jalapeño, minced

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons dry roasted cashews, finely chopped

  • 6-8 large basil leaves, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional; I like Red Boat)

  • salt and pepper, to taste

  • homemade mayo


Brine the chicken. Place a 1-gallon zipper storage bag inside a large bowl so the bag is standing up. Pour 4 cups of water into the bag, then add 3 cloves garlic, salt, and peppercorns. Stir with your hand to dissolve the salt, then add the chicken to the bag. This will look a bit unappetizing; avert your eyes. Seal the bag and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 2 hours, then rinse the chicken well and set aside until poaching time.


Prep the jicama. Wash and peel the jicama, cut it  in half, then slice into 1/4-inch thick ovals. Place in a covered container and place in the fridge to chill while you prep the rest of the ingredients. (I tried slicing the jicama very thinly with my mandoline, but the eating experience was much better with the thicker slices.)


Poach the chicken. Place the chicken in a single layer in a large pot. Add 2 cups water, coconut aminos, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and a few basil leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat way down to a gentle simmer. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, then turn off heat, allowing the chicken to relax in the covered spa bath for 15-20 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, use two forks to shred it and set aside until it’s time to assemble the Jicamadas. While the chicken is cooking…


Prep the relish: In a large bowl, mix the carrots, radishes, jalapeo, garlic, cashews, basil, and mint until combined. Add the lime juice, rice vinegar, oil, and fish sauce. Toss with a rubber spatula to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, then let the relish sit at room temperature so the flavors can meld.


Assemble the jicamadas: Spread an jicama slice with a little bit of mayo, then sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Pile shredded chicken on the jicama, then top with a few spoonfuls of the relish. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Eat with your hands, licking your fingers often.

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  • Emily Seah says:

    Great idea. So bookmarking this for the picnic basket this summer! 🙂

  • Daniel says:

    Hello author of my favorite cookbook ever!

    Why do I keep hearing that cashews aren’t paleo but you keep teasing me by throwing them into awesome looking food!?

    You’ve got an awesome attitude and I wish the best to you. Much love!

    • Mel says:

      Cashews used to be verboten, but most of the paleo/primal experts I follow have given them the greenlight. Peanuts are OUT, but cashews are in.

      From (

      “The cashew is, however, one of the richest sources of phytic acid in the nut and seed world, containing more phytate than almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and chestnuts. For that reason, I consider it helpful (and perhaps paramount) to soak your raw cashews before consuming them – especially if you’re trying to get over tooth decay or combat osteoporosis.

      The big problem I see with cashews is the tendency of folks to gorge on the little guys. It’s just something about a roasted, salted, buttery cashew that promotes overeating. Be wary of that.

      Verdict: Primal.”

  • This sounds fantastic! I don’t have a clue where to get jicama in Australia though. I’m not even entirely sure what it is. It looks kind of like a potato, though I know you can’t eat them raw. I wonder what would be a substitute? Zucchini? Japanese radishes? Help!

    • Mel says:

      You could replace the jicama with any of these:
      – a cucumber: cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds, fill hollow with chicken

      – a red pepper: cut in half lenthwise, ribs removed, fill hollow with chicken

      – a lovely butter lettuce leaf

      Have fun experimenting!

    • Amanda says:

      @Sarah: I was AMAZED to find Jicama at South Melbourne market today- only helpful if you live down here… It was an Asian vegetable specialist so perhaps try a local asian grocer?

    • Jo says:

      If anyone is looking for jicama in Australia you’ll find it (in season) at Vietnamese shops – it tends to be known here as ‘yam bean’ – it’s pale beige, smooth skinned, about fist sized, and shaped a bit like a turnip. The texture is like water chestnut – it’s great raw in salads, sweet, crunchy, and refreshing 🙂

  • barb says:

    Reading “What the devil is an jicamada?” I immediately thought “oh, that’s jicama crossed with Torquemada…that doesn’t sound tasty or fun.” (

    Apparently I am not just a fountain of useless information but also a conglomeration of bizarre associations.

    This looks like a fun recipe. Can’t wait until my Thai Basil grows up, I think it would be great in this recipe.

  • Mel says:

    Love that you’re dropping a Dominican Friar reference on us. YAY! That is brilliant.

  • Cara says:

    I’m pretty much drooling over here. Jicama is such an underused ingredient – I’m so excited to see a fun new way to enjoy it!

    • Mel says:

      Jicama is one of my favorite veggies to eat raw, and its sweetness is really nice with the sharper Vietnamese relish. Hope you like it!

  • aseafish says:

    This may well be one of the first recipes I’ve read in years that didn’t prompt my to think “that would be good if I just changed a few ingredients.”

    This I’m making exactly as it is.

  • Mel says:

    Oooooh momma!! Looks easy and fun. Tried ur mayo and tuna salad recipes….THANK YOU!! Now wanting a reason to make the mayo again. Have all the ingredients at home and think I’ll try it tonight. Woot!

  • Michelle in Austin says:


    Where do you find your Red Boat fish sauce? Do they sell it locally at HEB?


  • BDC says:

    New to the site – love it! Two thoughts: 1. Coconut aminos: where have you been all of my life? 2. Given your hilarious and spot-on love for non-peanut butters, thought I would share my favorite if you’re not in the mood to make it: Almond butter w/flax from Trader Joe’s. No added sugar!

    • Mel says:

      Welcome — glad you found me! And thanks for the recommendation. I *think* we’re getting a Trader Joe’s here in Austin soon… finally!

  • Brittany says:

    Another fresh, delicious, genius recipe from the House of Mel. I was a bit intimidated by the lengthy ingredient list at first (and second) glance, but my food processor lent a powerful hand, and the effort was TOTES worth it. You’re right; the sweet jicama is the perfect foil to the spicy relish. And OMGGG I brined and poached my chicken (bone-in breasts), and it was so deliciously moist and juicy I actually laughed out loud while shredding it. You are a kitchen wizard.

    Thanks so much for sharing another fresh, seasonal recipe! Rock on.

    • Mel says:

      I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, it’s a langthy ingredient list, but all salads worth eating are like that, no? At least it’s all chopping and EZ cooking.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Jodi says:

    This was delicious! It was very good the first day, but then yesterday I had the leftovers. Oh, wow! After a couple of days of blending flavors, it was phenomenal! Thanks, Mel! 🙂

    • Mel says:

      YAY! I’m happy you liked it! I really like this one, too… maybe I’ll make some in my next cookup. Good to know it ages well, too. Happy cooking to you.

  • Kitty says:

    Love this! I got such a huge jicama that i chopped a lot of it up and added it to the veggies in the salad. The flavors are great. I’m going to try the Thai Yummy salad next. I have both Well-Fed and Well-Fed 2 and they’re getting kind of tattered. Citrus Carnitas are simmering right now on the stove, making the house smell delicious! Weekly cookup today, can you tell?