Bang bang chicken: Spicy, sour and so delicious

G Daniela Galarza

THE WASHINGTON POST – Bang bang chicken is a Sichuan dish that’s full of big flavours: the earthiness of sesame oil, the rich umami of chicken fat, the tingle of chili oil, the sharp kick of Chinese black vinegar and the cooling heat of ginger.

Sometimes translated as “bon bon chicken” the name comes not from the dish’s ingredients, but from how the chicken is prepared. Cooks generally steam or boil whole or cut-up chickens and then – this is the important part – use sticks to bang on them.

Why all the banging? It efficiently separates the meat from the bones and helps tear the chicken into jagged strips and shreds.

Or, as writer and cookbook author Cathy Erway put it in a piece for Taste, the banging “bruises the thigh and breast meat, transforming it from whole chicken part to a soft sponge”.

Those tender shards are then ready to absorb the spicy, sweet, sour and salty sauce that goes on top. Cucumbers, scallions and sprigs of cilantro are the finishing touches.

Traditionally served as a cold appetiser or street snack, Erway riffed on the dish for her most recent book of main courses, Sheet Pan Chicken: 50 Simple and Satisfying Ways to Cook Dinner.

“I crave a lot of different textures and contrasts in my food, and it became a challenge, almost a game, to see how many I could fit on one pan,” Erway saif.

It’s why she decided to include bang bang chicken, albeit a version that’s easily made on a sheet pan: Rub whole chicken breasts with sesame oil, salt and pepper and then roast them, letting their skin get nice and crisp.

Sesame paste, chili oil, soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar and ginger infuse this bang bang chicken dinner with punchy flavours. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

BANG BANG CHICKEN

Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes

Four servings

“Sichuan cuisine is all about bringing big flavours,” wrote author Cathy Erway, in her book, Sheet Pan Chicken, from which this recipe is adapted. Sometimes translated as “bon bon chicken”, the dish is a street-food snack typically made with poached or steamed chicken breasts that are banged with a stick, which helps them shred into craggy pieces that absorb all of the flavourful sauce.

Erway’s adaptation uses bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts that are roasted to produce crispy skin, adding a texture to the dish.

The pan juices get mixed into the sauce, boosting its flavours. Serve over rice, which absorbs the chicken juices and sauce. Noodles or shredded lettuce are good accompaniments, too.

If you don’t use chicken, you can also skip the banging. Just make sure the protein is in bite-size pieces.

This is great as a salad, warm, at room temperature or cold. It can also be served over rice, noodles or shredded lettuce for a more filling meal.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHICKEN

Two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (eight to 10 ounces each)

One tablespoon toasted sesame oil

One teaspoon kosher salt

Half teaspoon finely ground black pepper

FOR THE SAUCE

A quarter cup soy sauce

A quarter cup Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Two tablespoons granulated sugar

Two tablespoons chili crisp or chile oil

One tablespoon Chinese white sesame paste (optional)

One teaspoon toasted sesame oil

One one-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

FOR SERVING

Two Persian cucumbers

Half cup toasted peanuts, optional

Two scallions

One cup cilantro leaves and stems

Steamed rice; cooked Asian wheat noodles, soba noodles or bean thread noodles; or shredded lettuce

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Rub the chicken with the sesame oil, salt and pepper.

Gently slide your finger underneath the skin of each breast to loosen it from the meat; this will encourage the skin to crisp as it cooks.

Place the chicken on a large, rimmed baking sheet, skin side up. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the skin is browned and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a breast reads 160 degrees.

While the chicken is roasting, make the sauce and prepare the garnishes. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili crisp or oil, sesame paste, if using, sesame oil and ginger.

To prepare the garnishes, julienne the cucumbers, roughly chop the peanuts, if using, thinly slice the scallions on a bias and coarsely chop the cilantro.

Let the cooked chicken cool for about 10 minutes. Using a rolling pin, gently bang or press down on each chicken piece so the meat breaks and shreds apart a bit.

Pull the chicken fully away from the bones, and, if preferred, remove and discard the bones.

The chicken should be in chunks and shredded bite-size pieces.

Serve the chicken over rice, noodles or shredded lettuce with the cucumbers, peanuts, if using, scallions and cilantro sprinkled on top.

Scrape any pan drippings into the sauce. Serve it on the side to drizzle generously over each serving.

NUTRITION

(half a chicken breast, about 1/2 cup of vegetables and toppings), based on four | Calories: 281; Total Fat: 16g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Sodium: 1,003mg; Carbohydrates: 10g; Dietary Fibre: 1g; Sugars: 8g; Protein: 23g.