Bang bang chicken is a Sichuan dish that’s full of big flavors: the earthiness of sesame oil, the rich umami of chicken fat, the tingle of chile 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.

Erway riffed on the dish, which is traditionally served as a cold appetizer or street snack, 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 says. 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.

But it’s summer, you cry! My oven and I are on a break!

I hear you. The chicken can be steamed, poached or grilled, too. (When it’s steamed or poached, it reminds Erway of a similar Taiwanese dish her mother used to make.) You could quickly sear a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or even make this with rotisserie chicken. But, Erway suggests, do yourself a favor and save whatever chicken drippings you come across. “I found that if you use the chicken juices from cooking anything, and you add it to your sauce, it gives it a lot of interesting depth,” Erway says. “It’s a scene stealer.”

And, whatever you do, don’t skip the banging. I use a rolling pin, but a strong wooden spoon works, too. The shards will start out big, and then you can tear them into smaller, bite-size pieces as they cool down. Drizzle the pungent guai wei sauce on top while the chicken is just barely warm. Then, pile on thinly sliced or matchstick-cut cucumbers, roasted peanuts, sliced scallions and lots of fresh cilantro.

“The thing is,” Erway says with a little laugh, “banging on things is a lot of fun.”

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Bang Bang Chicken

Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes

4 servings

“Sichuan cuisine is all about bringing big flavors,” writes 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 flavorful 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 flavors. Serve over rice, which absorbs the chicken juices and sauce. Noodles or shredded lettuce are good accompaniments, too.

Instead of chicken, you can use firm tofu, seared or grilled pork loin chops or ground meat (or non-meat). NOTE: If you don’t use chicken, you can also skip the banging. Just make sure the protein is in bite-size pieces.

Instead of sesame oil > Use peanut or coconut oil.

No Chinese sesame paste? > Use tahini, or skip it.

Instead of soy sauce > Use liquid aminos.

In place of Chinese black vinegar > Use red wine vinegar.

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.

Where to Buy: Find Chinese sesame paste and black vinegar at Asian markets or online.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHICKEN

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (8 to 10 ounces each)

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

FOR THE SAUCE

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar) or red wine or balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons chile crisp or chile oil

1 tablespoon Chinese white sesame paste (optional)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

FOR SERVING

2 Persian cucumbers

1/2 cup toasted peanuts, optional

2 scallions

1 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, chile 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 per serving (half a chicken breast, about 1/2 cup of vegetables and toppings), based on 4 | Calories: 281; Total Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Sodium: 1003 mg; Carbohydrates: 10 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 8 g; Protein: 23 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from “Sheet Pan Chicken: 50 Simple and Satisfying Ways to Cook Dinner” by Cathy Erway.


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