Story has it that food hawkers in the Sichuan region of China once had a dilemma as to how to sell cold chicken cheaply but generously in equal portions to customers. The solution was to pound the chicken to “stretch” it and to make sure that the pieces were of uniform thickness. The sound of pounding went “bang bang” and the cold chicken dish came to be known as bang bang chicken.
Centuries later, in America, The Cheesecake Factory came up with a dish called bang-bang chicken which did not even remotely resemble the Sichuan cold chicken dish. If you do an image search on Google, or if you search for “bang-bang chicken” on Pinterest, about eighty per cent of the results will be copycat recipes of The Cheesecake Factory’s concoction.
This is Sichuan bang bang chicken — shredded cold chicken meat tossed in a thick spicy sauce made with Sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste and chili oil, among other things. No pounding necessary.
Since this is a Chinese dish, it is made with Chinese ingredients all of which are available in Chinese groceries and, sometimes, in the Asian section of regular groceries and supermarkets. If you want to truly savor the wonders of Sichuan bang bang chicken, make a serious effort to find the ingredients.
Sichuan peppercorn is not the same as the common peppercorn. There is no substitute for Sichuan peppercorn.
Sesame paste is sold in jars. I got mine from a store in Chinatown. If unavailable, substitute tahini. If tahini is unavailable, use smooth peanut butter. Peanut butter will give the dish a different flavor, aroma and mouth feel but it isn’t such a bad alternative.
Black vinegar is sold in bottles. It doesn’t taste nor smell like regular vinegar.
Chili oil comes in jars. And don’t look for a jar that contains only oil. Chili oil is made by soaking roasted chilies in oil and the bits are roasted chilies are in the jar too. We use Lee Kum Kee chili oil at home.
Sichuan Bang Bang Chicken
- 2 cups chicken bone broth
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 shallot
- 1 slice ginger
- 2 chicken breast fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame paste
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chili oil (including the bits of chili), plus more to garnish
- shredded lettuce
- toasted sesame seeds
- sliced scallions
- Heat the chicken bone broth, two cloves garlic, shallot and ginger. Add salt, the amount depending on how salty the broth is.
- Bring to a simmer and drop in the chicken breast fillets. Poach the chicken for ten minutes then remove from the broth. Cool the chicken.
- Make the sauce. With a mortar and pestle, pound the Sichuan peppercorns until powdery.
- Peel the remaining two cloves of garlic and add to the Sichuan peppercorns. Sprinkle in the sugar. Pound until pasty.
- Add the sesame paste slowly with constant stirring.
- Add the soy sauce, black vinegar and chili oil with the bits of chili. Stir until smooth. Taste and make the necessary adjustments in accordance with your taste.
- Pull the chicken breasts apart into rather chunky shreds. Toss with the prepared sauce.
- Line a plate with shredded lettuce. Arrange the chicken on top. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions. Drizzle with more chili oil and serve the Sichuan bang bang chicken.