Bang Bang chicken is a Szechuan street food favorite that has found world wide popularity and for good reason. The dish is little more than boiled chicken napped with an addictive spicy Szechuan pepper sauce that is salty, sweet, sour, nutty, hot, and numbing. It is the numbing sensation of Szechuan pepper in the sauce that makes this dish so universally appealing. Unlike hot chile’s instant heat, Szechuan pepper’s heat blooms and lingers as an after note with an almost soothing effect on the palate. It’s so addictive you may even find yourself slathering it onto crusty toast for a quick snack!
Traditionally bang bang chicken is served cold, a salad if you will. But tradition aside, I’ve found it is equally appealing served warm in the cooler months. The recipe that follows is very easy to prepare and assemble at a moment’s notice as street vendors have been doing since the 1920’s in the alleyways of Chengdu. The bang bang refers to the sound of vendors whacking the cooked chicken meat just before pulling it apart for serving.
Bang Bang ji si Serves 6
First you want to boil the chicken in a fragrant broth.
- 1 free range chicken
- several leeks, chopped including the green parts
- 4 slices of fresh ginger root, smashed
- 2 inch piece cinnamon bark
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
Rinse the chicken thoroughly. Trim off excess fat and discard.
Fill a stockpot half full with water. Add the leeks, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, and Szechuan peppercorns. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Plunge the chicken into the boiling pot and turn up the heat. Once the broth is boiling again lower the heat to a good simmer and cook the chicken for 30 minutes, or slightly longer if the chicken is quite large. Do not overcook! You want the meat to be moist and very tender. Run the handle of a wooden spoon through the cavity of the chicken and remove it from the pot and set aside to cool.
When cool enough to handle remove the skin and pull the meat away from the bones in the largest chunks possible and set aside. Throw the skin and bones back into the pot and continue to simmer for 1 hour.
Turn off the heat and cool for 30 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the stock into containers and set aside to cool. Discard the skin, bones, and stock ingredients. Once cool the stock should be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for later use.
Just before serving give the chicken meat a light whack with a rolling pin to loosen the fibers of the meat and pull the meat apart into plump shreds.
If you have left over chicken, place it in a container and add cooled broth to cover the chicken. Seal and refrigerate.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare Szechuan pepper sauce and the cucumber and scallion garnish.
Szechuan Pepper Sauce makes 1 cup
- 1 large shallot, peeled and very finely minced (about 6 tablespoons)
- 4 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons dried red chile flakes with seeds
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or tahini)
- 1 tablespoon roasted Szechuan peppercorns, ground
- toasted sesame seeds (see here)
- fresh coriander leaves
Select a medium size skillet and place over medium low flame. When the skillet is hot add the peanut oil and swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and cook 5 to 7 minutes. Lower the flame as needed until the shallots are very soft and translucent without browning.
Add the red chile flakes and the sugar and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Then stir in the soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame paste, and ground Szechuan pepper and stir until well combined with a silky texture.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set aside for serving or refrigerate for later use.
Reserve the toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves to garnish the sauced chicken when serving.
Cucumbers and Scallions
- 2 cucumbers
- 6 to 8 scallions
- sea salt
- rice vinegar
Peel the cucumbers and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and discard. Slice the cucumber halves in half and slice into thin batons. Place in a colander, salt lightly, and set aside for half an hour to draw out some of the water from the cucumbers.
Clean and trim the scallions and slice into very thin strips approximately the same size as the cucumber batons.
Once water is drawn out of the cucumbers place them on a kitchen towel and blot dry. Place in a non reactive bowl along with the scallions, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Splash with the rice vinegar just before assembling the final dish.
To serve cold: Scatter the cucumber scallion mixture in the bottom of individual shallow bowls. Top with the pulled chicken, nap the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves.
To serve warm: Rewarm the pulled chicken in some fragrant broth. Place the warm chicken in individual shallow bowls. Stir a little bit of the sauce into the remaining broth and pour it around the chicken. Nap the chicken with the sauce and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves. Nestle the cucumbers and scallions to the side. Serve with individual bowls of steamed rice.