It’s hard to make one’s choice when more than half of a cookery book has been marked to be tested…. (If you have been following my latest culinary discoveries, you will not be surprised if I say I talk about “Sichuan Cookery” by Fuchsia Dunlop). I always hesitate between the famous recipes I want to test, the easy and quick no-fuss dishes and of course the intriguing ones. Bang Bang Chicken (Bang bang ji si) falls into the latter category and not only by its amusing name (which makes me hum a certain film soundtrack for two last days…) but, as I later learnt, also by its unusual flavours.
I suppose that to many of you Bang Bang Chicken is as familiar as Gong Bao/Kung Pao Chicken. To me, however, it has only recalled a vaguely Asian dish, but nothing else. For those, who, like me, have never seen this famous dish, it’s composed of boiled cold chicken, torn into pieces and dressed with a very particular sauce. If one takes into consideration the onion or/and the cucumber the chicken is served with, the dish might be called a chicken salad.
The words “bang bang” come from the wooden cudgel (“bang” in Mandarin) used to “beat” the cooked chicken so that its fibers loosen and it becomes easier to be torn into pieces. A very similar dish is called “Strange-Flavour Chicken (Guai wei ji si) due to the unusual combination of the sauce flavours (salty, sweet, sour, nutty, hot, numbing). The difference between these two Sichuan dishes is minimal. According to the chefs cited by Fuchsia Dunlop, Bang Bang Chicken should be more “hot and numbing” than its close cousin. Otherwise, the basic ingredients and the method remain identical.
I took out the chicken breasts and thought I would prepare a quick lunch. Alas, the preparation is not as quick as it seems or looks. First the chicken needs to be boiled and slowly cooled. The Sichuan pepper, sesame seeds or peanuts need to be toasted (although the former two ingredients are very handy in other Sichuanese dishes and can be prepared in bigger amounts). Onions need to be soaked in water and cucumbers salted for at least 20 minutes… The time and effort were certainly worth it because the dish is a pure delight and the strange-flavour sauce makes the first bite an unforgettable experience.
Even though I kept the sauce as genuine as I could, I must confess a slight modification concerning the chicken preparation. First of all, instead of cooking the whole bird, I used two skinless breasts found in the freezer (thus the meat didn’t need any beating). I have also slightly modified the boiling liquid, using a cube of chicken stock with fresh ginger. If you want to see the original recipe, I strongly advise buying Fuchsia Dunlop’s book. It’s a rare jewel.
I have also prepared several other recipes from the Sichuan Cookery; all turned out excellent. Until now I have posted:
The author says Bang Bang Chicken is served either on a layer of spring onions or on cucumbers. I have dressed mine on spring onions, putting cucumbers on a separate plate. At the table I combined everything in a bowl creating a very refreshing light summer salad.
Apparently dark sesame paste is the best choice for this dish. The author suggests however tahini or any other standard sesame paste as a substitute. I was glad to use light, organic sesame paste that has been sitting in my fridge for ages.
The chicken can be cooked one day before and dressed just before the meal.
If you have some leftover chicken, boiled in stock, steamed or prepared in any other, rather neutrally tasting way, this dish is an original way to use it.
Preparation: 2 hours (or 30 minutes if you have already boiled and cooled the chicken)
Ingredients (serves two as a main dish, with rice or bread and some vegetables; serves 3-4 as a starter):
2 chicken breasts (or half of a small chicken weighing about 400 g/0,9 lb) + 1 litre (about 4 cups) chicken stock + 2,5 cm (1 in) ginger
1 flat tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)
3 tablespoons sesame paste (the best one is dark Chinese sesame paste, but tahini or any other sesame paste is a good substitute)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons chili oil with chili flakes (I used my home-made Taberu Rayu)
1 teaspoon toasted and ground Sichuan pepper (see below)
a couple of teaspoons toasted sesame seeds or unsalted toasted peanuts, roughly crushed (I have chosen the peanuts) (also see below)
6 spring onions (only white parts) or/and 1 long cucumber
First prepare the chicken. Bring the stock to the boil.
Cut the ginger into thick slices and crush them with the handle of your knife.
Add the ginger and the chicken (or chicken breasts) to the boiling stock.
Cook for 15 minutes (breasts) or 30 minutes (half-chicken). Cover with a lid and let it stand for another 15 minutes.
Let the chicken cool down, skin it and then shred the meat into slivers with your fingers. Make sure there are no bones in your shredded slivers.
Toast the sesame seeds or peanuts in a dry frying pan, on medium heat, until they are golden.
Put the sesame seeds aside. Crush the peanuts roughly with the bottom of a bowl or the handle of a big knife.
Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan, on medium heat, until they start giving off a very strong smell but don’t let them burn. Put them into a coffee grinder or a small food processor (the one for baby food is perfect) and grind them.
If using the cucumber, cut it into thin strips (similar in size and form to chicken slivers), sprinkle it with salt and put aside for about 20 minutes.
Wash off the salt and drain the cucumber.
Cut the spring onion into thin strips lengthwise (similar in form and size to the chicken slivers) and put them into a bowl of cold water for at least 15 minutes. Drain them.
Prepare the sauce combining all the ingredients.
Pile either the onions or the cucumber in the middle of a plate.
Place the chicken slivers on top of the onions or cucumber.
Pour the sauce over the chicken.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds or peanuts.