Hot Thai chicken salad on a bed of crispy cold green lettuce with shredded carrots is topped with crunchy peanuts and fresh cilantro. This quick and easy family dinner is perfect for a busy night because you can prep everything in advance.
I believe family dinner is all about balance. During an extra-crazy few days, we took the frozen pizza/mac and cheese shortcuts for too many nights in a row and I wanted to even things out with a lighter, veggie-heavier dinner for the family.
This easy Thai chicken salad was an easy sell for my kids because it is loaded with amazing flavors and textures.
A homemade version of our favorite take-out chicken is spooned over a bed of crispy lettuce and then loaded up with delicious toppings.
This was such a delicious and easy dinner, it will absolutely be making its way into our rotation again and again.
Why This is the Best Recipe
Dinner salads are such a fantastic option on a busy night when you feel like your family has been eating too much take out and you want to right the balance with plenty of fresh veggies. I think this is the best Thai chicken salad recipe because:
- Quick and Easy: You can bake the chicken thighs fresh or substitute a rotisserie chicken in a pinch.
- Short List of Ingredients: The Thai sauce requires a few pantry items you can stock up and just keep on hand. The rest of the salad is very flexible and can be made with vegetables from your fridge.
- No Salad Dressing: I purposely skipped the salad dressing on this recipe to lighten things up. There is plenty of Thai sauce on the chicken to add lots of flavor to the salad. I added a generous drizzle of it to each salad bowl when serving. If you really want to add a salad dressing, drizzle a light lime vinaigrette over the top.
To make the easy Thai sauce for the chicken, you'll need a few pantry ingredients:
- Sweet Chili Sauce: This ingredient will be found in the International foods section of your grocery store, near the other Thai foods. This is not the American chili sauce like you would use for making cocktail sauce.
- Soy Sauce: I used tamari because I had it on hand. Either one will work fine.
- Sriracha Sauce
- Minced Garlic
- Dried Ginger
- Sesame Oil
- Fish Sauce
For the rest of the salad you will also need:
- Cooked Chicken: I recommend baking boneless, skinless chicken thighs fresh before assembling the salad. But in a pinch on a busy night, you could also shred a rotisserie chicken and toss it in the homemade Thai sauce.
- Romaine Lettuce
- Shredded Carrots
- Fresh Cilantro
- Chopped Peanuts
- Fresh Limes
Bake the Chicken Thighs
I love the texture and flavor of fresh baked chicken thighs for this recipe. You could be chopping the lettuce while the chicken cooks, this step is just so easy.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Place the chicken thighs in a 9x13-inch baking dish in a single layer. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.
Bake for 30 minutes, turning the chicken over half way through baking.
The chicken thighs are done when they register 165°F with an instant read thermometer.
Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Make the Thai Sauce
Stir all the ingredients for the Thai sauce together in a large saucepan.
Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for just 3 minutes. This ensures the garlic is cooked and the flavors have a chance to mingle.
Add the chopped chicken to the saucepan and turn to coat in the sauce.
Thai Chicken Salad Toppings
This easy dinner salad was something I whipped together on a very busy night with items I had in my fridge.
On top of the bed of chopped romaine and shredded carrots, I also added fresh cilantro, fresh green onions, and chopped roasted peanuts for crunch.
I served the lime wedges on the side for squeezing over the salad at the dinner table.
If you want to add even more flavor to your dish and happen to have some of these items in your fridge, you could also add:
- Chopped Bell Peppers: Red or green bell peppers would be excellent choices.
- Shredded Cabbage Slaw: Purple or green cabbage mix would add tons of crunch.
- Chopped Red Onion: If green onions are too mild for you, add fresh chopped red onion for more punch.
- Yellow Sweet Corn: Thaw a bag of frozen sweet corn and add the corn kernels to the salad mix for a touch of sweetness.
NOTE: You may have noticed that this recipe does not include a salad dressing. I wanted a dish that was lighter for my family so we skipped it. There is plenty of sauce on the Thai chicken, we didn't even miss it.
That said, if your family really wants a salad dressing over the lettuce, you could toss the salad with a store bought lime vinaigrette.
The sweet and spicy Thai sauce would actually be delicious with these simple variations:
Thai Shrimp Salad: Substitute a batch of my air fryer shrimp instead of the baked chicken thighs.
Breaded Thai Chicken Salad: Toss a batch of baked breaded chicken nuggets into the homemade Thai sauce. We love the frozen chicken nuggets from Costco. You could even bake them in the air fryer to make it go faster.
This lighter dinner salad is very low carb and would be gluten free if you used a gluten free soy sauce in the Thai sauce.
For a heartier dinner, I served it with toasted naan breads cut into triangles on the side.
You could also top the salad with crispy wonton strips from the salad toppings section of the grocery store if you want more crunch.
Make Ahead Tips
The Thai chicken salad tastes best when the chicken is warm and the lettuce is cold.
If you want to meal prep this dish for work week lunches or an easy dinner for later in the week, you could bake the chicken and toss it in the Thai sauce.
Store that separately in a container in the fridge and just reheat it in the microwave.
Prep the salad vegetables and store them separately. Just assemble the hot chicken and cold salad right before serving.
What to Do with Leftover Thai Chicken
Even if you only want to scale the dinner for fewer servings, I highly recommend baking the entire batch of chicken thighs and Thai sauce because you can freeze the leftover chicken for other dinners later.
Use a little leftover chicken to make Thai chicken pizza with naan bread crusts.
Or turn the chicken into Thai chicken tacos using my baked chicken tacos method. Top the tacos with shredded cabbage, fresh cilantro, and chopped peanuts.
Thai Chicken Salad
For the Chicken
- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and black pepper
For the Thai Sauce
- ½ cup sweet chili sauce from the Thai foods department of the grocery store
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 4 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
- 2 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon dried ginger
For the Salad
- 2 heads romaine lettuce chopped
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- ⅓ cup peanuts chopped
- 1 handful fresh cilantro chopped
- 2 limes cut into wedges
Bake the Chicken
- This recipe tastes amazing with freshly baked chicken thighs but this step does add 30 minutes to your cooking time. If you need a faster prep, skip this step and just use a cooked rotisserie chicken instead.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the chicken thighs in a single layer in a 9x13-inch baking pan. Season with the salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the chicken over half way through the cooking time. The meat should register 165°F with an instant read probe thermometer.
Prep the Thai Sauce
- Measure all the ingredients for the Thai sauce and stir them together in a sauce pan. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 3 minutes.
- Cut the cooked chicken meat into bite-sized pieces. Add the chopped chicken to the saucepan and turn to coat in the sauce. Set aside.
Assemble the Salad
- Toss together the chopped romaine and shredded carrots. Divide the salad mix across the serving bowls.
- Top each salad with a large spoonful of the Thai chicken mixture and then sprinkle the chopped cilantro and peanuts over the top. Serve lime wedges on the side.
- OPTIONAL: Thai chicken salad would taste great with toasted naan breads on the side or crispy wonton strips sprinkled over the top for crunch.
Easy VariationsTo add even more flavor to your salad, you could also top your dish with:
- Chopped bell peppers
- Shredded purple or green cabbage slaw
- Red onions
- Thawed frozen sweet corn
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