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January, 2013

Mexican-Style Barbequed Chicken Chopped Salad
By Heidi Allison

I stumbled upon this stellar dish at a luxury resort in Cabo San Lucas. I ate it 5 days in a row—it was that good. What knocked it out of the ballpark was the dressing.
Cherry Tomatoes

In this salad – it’s all in the details. Organic, well-prepared chilled greens, chopped cilantro, rich black olives, and petite, sweet, thin-skinned grape tomatoes are layered with earthy black beans, grilled, slightly charred yellow corn, avocado and hot, crispy, corn tortilla strips, which are dressed with a smoky, slightly sweet and creamy dressing that’s almost hypnotic in its flavor. A lighter, trendier and more upscale rendition of the iconic “Italian Chopped-Salad” genre of meals, this dish works equally well at Super Bowl parties or as a light entrée during the week. And, you won’t feel guilty serving this healthier version either – it lacks the cheese and nitrate-cured meats.

I stumbled upon this stellar dish at a luxury resort in Cabo San Lucas. I ate it 5 days in a row—it was that good. What knocked it out of the ballpark was the dressing. The only secret the wait staff would divulge: the Chef was using a wood-smoked, sweet barbeque sauce in the dressing. The Chef mentioned it was also crucial that the greens be rinsed in a water bath of lightly salted water, which not only cleans the lettuce, but also enhances its texture and flavor. (I thought this was an unnecessary step with organics until I tasted the results!) After testing this recipe with a variety of sauces and binders – Mexican Crema, crème fraiche, egg yolk, oil, and mayo, along with five different styles of ‘que sauce – I uncovered mixing a Texas-style sweet, mesquite-smoke flavored barbeque sauce with a good quality mayo, in a ratio of 3:1, was a home run. A few drops of a vinegar-based, Louisiana-style red hot sauce (Crystal or Tabasco) added the finishing touch.

But, there was another element that set this salad apart – presentation. An interesting juxtaposition of temperatures and textures are at play in this simple dish – crispy, icy cold greens and creamy avocado are paired with room-temperature barbequed chicken and hot, fried tortillas strips. The smoky, sweet dressing is creamy, yet surprisingly light – it does not overpower the greens. Who knew barbeque sauce could work so well in salad!

Mexican-Style Barbequed Chicken Chopped Salad

Serves: 2 as an entrée; 4 as an appetizer

 Mexican-Style Barbequed Chicken Chopped Salad


1 large head Romaine Lettuce, leaves washed and dried
1 small head of Red Cabbage, washed and shredded
1 can Black Beans, drained
1 large Avocado, cut into small, ¼ inch dice
6 ounces Grape Tomatoes, washed and cut in half
1 small bunch Cilantro, leaves removed and chopped
1 Store Bought Roasted Chicken, skin removed and meat chopped in a medium dice
Corn Tortilla Strips
3 corn Tortillas, cut into ¼ inch strips
1/3 cup Olive or Canola Oil Kosher Flake
Salt, to taste


3 Tablespoons Texas-style, sweet mesquite-smoked barbeque sauce (I prefer Stubbs)
1 Tablespoon Mayonnaise
4 drops Louisiana style, vinegar-based red hot sauce (Crystal or Tabasco)


Place a large stainless bowl and serving salad plates in the refrigerator for 20 minutes while preparing this dish. Fill a large basin with warm water and add 3 Tablespoons Kosher flake salt and stir to dissolve. Add lettuce leaves and let soak for 20 seconds, then gently swirl the leaves in the water, then remove to paper towel. Drain water from basin, and fill a second time with cold water and gently swirl the leaves in the water; then drain leaves on paper towels and set aside. When lettuce has air-dried (or, put in a salad spinner), stack a few leaves on top of each other and slice into ¼ inch strips, lengthwise. Place leaves in a bowl and set aside.

Prepare the dressing by adding barbeque sauce, mayo and hot sauce into a bowl and whisking until an emulsion forms and all ingredients are combined. Cover and place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to develop. Add enough oil to a 10-inch frying pan to cover ¼ inch deep and heat on medium heat until hot. Add tortillas strips and fry until crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

To prepare the salad: Place beans, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and cilantro into the chilled metal salad bowl and drizzle 4 tablespoons of dressing over salad and toss with tongs until leaves are lightly coated. Place salad on chilled plates and drizzle an additional 1 tablespoon of dressing over plated salad (use 1 teaspoon with smaller appetizer servings), then top with tortilla strips. Serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:

Plates should be well-chilled before serving. Kids love this recipe – a good way to get them to eat their greens!