Bang bang chicken gets its name from the treatment dished out to the poor bird: whacking it with a rolling pin. But it’s the bang bang sauce that is the star of the show.
Life without bang bang chicken
I have lived most of my life oblivious to what I was missing by not having tried bang bang chicken, ever. I’d been aware of the dish, but I had the impression that it was an inauthentically created American Chinese one rather than something out of ethnic Asian kitchen. I thought it was greasy, double fried, covered in mayonnaise.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I picked it on a whim in an excellent pan-Asian restaurant in Harrogate, The Orchid (which I can wholeheartedly recommend). Revelation – and I didn’t have quite enough of it because The Weather Man basically scoffed my portion.
What is bang bang chicken?
It’s a dish of Sichuan origin, nothing like its Americanised version, which indeed features fried chicken in mayo.
The genuine product is chicken cooked in fragrant broth, shredded or sliced and served with matchstick crudites and the most awesome sauce on Earth.
It is usually served as a starter, and that’s how I (or rather TWM) had it in Harrogate, but I have since frequently had it for dinner, with a mound of plain rice to sop up the sauce.
Why bang bang?
The banging comes from the fact that traditionally, the cooked chicken is smashed with a rolling pin or a mallet.
If you’re cooking a whole chicken, it helps tremendously to tenderise and shred it but if it’s one or two chicken breasts, it’s just fun. Though also the exercise does make the meat exceedingly tender.
Incidentally, it is also called bam bam or bon bon chicken.
How to prepare the chicken
For boneless breasts, poaching takes as little as under fifteen minutes in a broth scented with star anise, ginger and five spice powder. It’s best to leave the chicken in the broth to cool, so it stays moist.
When cooled enough to handle, you can bring your rolling pin out and get hammering. But I advise placing the chicken in a food bag for this, otherwise it sprays all over the kitchen.
If it still needs dividing into strips, use a knife. Strain some of the broth into a cup as it will be needed for the sauce.
The glorious bang bang sauce
I trawled through several reliable looking websites and compiled mine from a couple, mainly the BBC one but I got some interesting info out of The Woks of Life.
Please don’t kill me if you’re an expert on Sichuan cuisine and my version is inauthentic, what with the peanut butter that looks suspiciously American.
I have tried several options though, including one with Chinese sesame paste and the recipe below is the best outcome: mind-blowingly delicious, with peanut butter as the base for the sauce.
I heart PB
Peanut butter was never my thing. In fact I don’t think I’d ever had any, apart from a lick here or there or an odd chocolate I didn’t enjoy. I still can’t exactly picture myself eating it from a jar with a spoon (in confidence: I can!), but I’m definitely a convert.
So my version of the sauce features crunchy peanut butter and it’s best blitzed in a food processor or a small blender. Whisking it all by hand works too, of course, just more laboriously.
Grated ginger and garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil, but also, crucially, a little honey and lime juice, together with enough chicken broth to make it runny, makes for a completely fabulous sauce.
And then it’s your choice what to cut up into matchsticks to serve as a bed for the chicken: cucumber, carrot, mooli radish and spring onions are my choices.
Spoon the sauce over the plate or plates, add plain rice on the side for a dinner main course, sprinkle with some chopped peanuts, extra sesame seeds and/or crispy fried shallots and tuck in in bliss.
More Chinese chicken recipes
Chicken chow mein takeaway style with crispy noodles: 'chow mein' means 'fried noodles'. With stir fried chicken and a salty touch of smoked ham, it's actually much better than a takeaway.
Chicken yu xiang, chicken breast pieces cooked in Sichuan ‘fragrant fish’ sauce which has seafood only in the name. With addition of dried cranberries for the sweetness and almonds for crunch.
Kung pao, or gong bao chicken recipe, chicken and peanuts stir fry with thick and spicy sauce. Authentic taste of a good kung pao chicken takeaway made at home, with the spiciness from chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.
More Asian salad recipes
Five spice shrimp stir fry salad with crispy noodles. Chinese five spice seasoned prawns in a warm layered salad served with crispy fried noodles.
Thai beef salad made with finely sliced seared bavette steak, aka flank or skirt steak. Perfectly flavoursome beef on a bed of crunchy vegetables, with classic Thai dressing makes a delightful dish.
Vietnamese cabbage and prawn salad with nuoc mam dressing, layered on baked brown rice. The best salad bowls are a/ Asian and b/ contain cabbage.