This crispy coconut chicken salad recipe is bursting with fresh sweet and savory flavors and tossed with a simple sesame vinaigrette.
One of those salads that just makes me sohappy. ♡
Some of you might recognize it as a riff on the nostalgic mandarin chicken salads that so many of us (hi, me!) used to love at restaurants back in the 90s. But my modern version is lightened up, freshened up, and dare I say even more flavorful than the originals! It’s loaded up with an irresistible blend of crisp coleslaw, juicy fresh mandarin oranges, creamy avocado, toasted almonds, chopped cilantro and scallions. Then everything is tossed with a quick sesame vinaigrette, and topped with my favorite pan-fried crispy coconut chicken. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors, creamy and crunchy and juicy textures, with zero cans of syrupy-sweet mandarin oranges in sight. If you’re anything like me, I think you’re going to absolutely love it!
Of course, there are all sorts of ways that you’re welcome to customize this recipe to your liking, from swapping in your favorite protein (shrimp or tofu would be fantastic alternatives to chicken), to whatever greens or nuts you happen to have on hand, to all sorts of other fun add-ins that might strike your fancy (see ideas below). So please have fun with this recipe and enjoy an extra bite for me!
Crispy Coconut Chicken Salad Ingredients
Before we get to the full crispy coconut chicken mandarin salad recipe below, here are a few brief notes about the ingredients you will need:
Coleslaw mix: I just used a standard coleslaw mix, which adds wonderful texture and crunch and helps this salad hold up beautifully in the refrigerator if you happen to have leftovers.
Crispy coconut-crusted chicken: I recommend thinly slicing boneless chicken breasts (or you can opt to use chicken tenderloins), which we will bread with Panko breadcrumbs, sweetened shredded coconut, egg, flour, ground ginger, salt, pepper and then pan-fry in coconut oil (or your preferred cooking oil).
Mandarin oranges: I love the flavor of fresh mandarin oranges (clementines) in this salad, but you could opt to use any other variety of fresh oranges or canned mandarin oranges if you prefer.
Scallions and cilantro: We will add lots and lots of chopped fresh scallions and cilantro to freshen things up.
Avocados: I recommend using a generous amount of diced avocado in this salad, whose creamy flavor and texture balances so nicely with all of the other crispy ingredients.
Almonds: I love the texture of toasted sliced almonds in this salad, but slivered or crushed almonds would be delicious too.
Sesame vinaigrette: This sweet and savory vinaigrette is easy to whip up with oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, toasted sesame oil, ground ginger, garlic powder, salt and black pepper.
Sesame seeds: Finally, I recommend a generous sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds as a garnish for extra sesame flavor and crunch!
Optional Recipe Variations
Here are a few other ways that you are welcome to customize this crispy chicken salad recipe if you would like:
Bake the chicken: If you prefer to bake instead of pan-fry the chicken, just mist the breaded chicken with oil on both sides. Place it on a wire rack set atop a baking sheet (or you can place it directly on the baking sheet) and bake at 400°F for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.
Use a different protein: Shrimp or tofu would be delicious options in place of the chicken, if you would like.
Use different greens: Sub in any of your favorite salad greens in place of the coleslaw.
Use different fruit: Fresh strawberries, pineapple, blueberries, kiwi, or any other variety of oranges would work well in place of (or combined with) the mandarin oranges.
Use peanuts: Toss in some crushed peanuts in place of almonds.
Add more fun stuff: Crispy chow mein noodles, crispy wonton strips, edamame, sliced radishes, sliced jalapeño peppers, etc. would also be fun add-ins!
Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free Panko and a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend.
Make it vegetarian/vegan: Use plant-based “chicken” or tofu, or omit the protein altogether.
More Favorite Salad Recipes
Looking for some more fruit-forward salad recipes to try? Here are a few of my faves:
Prep the dredging assembly line. In one shallow bowl, whisk together flour, salt, ginger and black pepper until combined. In a second shallow bowl, briefly whisk the egg. In a third shallow bowl, whisk together Panko and shredded coconut until combined.
Bread the chicken. Dip a piece of chicken in the flour mixture until completely coated, shaking off any excess. Dip the chicken next in the whisked egg until coated, shaking off any excess. Dip the chicken finally in the Panko mixture, gently pressing as much of the mixture to the chicken as possible to help it stick. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate, then repeat this process with the remaining chicken strips.
Pan-fry the chicken. Heat the coconut oil in a nonstick sauté pan until hot. Add however many pieces of chicken can fit in a single layer without crowding the pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until the breading is golden and the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper-towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining chicken, adding extra coconut oil to the pan if needed.
Make the vinaigrette. Meanwhile, whisk all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl (or shake together vigorously in a sealed jar) until combined.
Mix the salad. Combine the coleslaw mix, oranges, scallions, avocados, cilantro, almonds and cooked chicken in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle evenly with the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!
Shredded coconut: If your brand of shredded coconut has fairly large flakes, I’d recommend briefly blitzing it in the food processor (or giving it a rough chop with a chef’s knife) to help it adhere more easily to the chicken. You are also welcome to use unsweetened shredded coconut if you prefer.