It’s Shrove Tuesday this week and, although traditional pancakes are eaten because they were once a quick, easy and extremely delicious way to use up all the eggs and butter before the Lenten fast, in these days of plenty it really doesn’t matter what kind of pancakes we eat to mark the day.
I first made this recipe for a pancake-themed Shrove Tuesday supper party which I didn’t want to feel like a one note meal, so I used a different kind of pancake for each course.
The ones I use to wrap the chicken or tofu in are the thin rice versions that you can find in any Asian supermarket, often in the freezer section. They are inexpensive, and are packaged so that you can just remove what you need and pop the others back in the freezer. (I find them very useful for last minute suppers.)
I don’t just love this dish because of its name (which is irresistibly good, and comes from the noise that is made when the chicken is tenderised by banging it), but because it is as finger lickin’ good as it is easy. It’s so simple that it would be a great recipe to make with children, although there is nothing childish about it.
It originates from Sichuan, where the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns makes it a much fierier dish than we eat in the West. (Feel free to add 1 or 2 tsps if you crave the burn). And I do like the synchronicity of it being Chinese New Year today: Gong xi fa cai!
Bang Bang Chicken is usually served with its sauce over noodles, either rice or mung bean, but I like to serve my version as a DIY version with all the ingredients separated so the eaters can choose their favourite combination to roll up in a pancake.
And, of course, if you are vegetarian, you can simply substitute tofu for the chicken with very little culinary fuss.
The beauty about this meal is threefold: it can all be prepared in advance, there is very little cooking, and it is equally nice cold as it is hot.
INGREDIENTS – to serve six
6 chicken breasts (on the bone)
4 tbsps corn or potato starch
2 tbsps neutral cooking oil, preferably rapeseed
For the sauce:
8 tbsps peanut butter (Either Smooth or Crunchy)
6 tbsp. Sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
240 ml of the chicken’s poaching liquid to loosen the sauce
For the table:
2 heads baby gem lettuce
1 bunch spring onions
1 whole cucumber
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
half a bunch fresh coriander
200gms rice noodles
I allow four pancakes per head plus a few extra = 30
If using chicken:
NOTE: You can use skinless chicken breasts if you are in a hurry, but poaching the breasts on the bone gives a deeper flavoured stock for the sauce.
Rinse the chicken breasts under a running tap, and then cover with cold water in a saucepan, placed over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and poach gently for 15 minutes. Check the inside of a breast, and if there is any hint of pinkness, simmer for another five minutes.
Whilst the chicken is cooking, or after the tofu is prepared, dump all the sauce ingredients in another pan, mix together thoroughly and heat over a gentle flame. (Be careful not to let it catch – burnt peanuts smell revolting.)
When the chicken is cooked remove from the water, remove the skin and discard. Take the meat from the bone and shred neatly – you can use a fork or your fingers.
Plunge the rice noodles into a pan of boiling water – they should cook almost immediately (but do check packet instructions), and then drain. Add a drop of sesame oil to the noodles to stop them sticking.
If you have a steamer, place it over a pan of simmering water, and add the pancakes to the basket to warm through. Otherwise they can be wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven.
(Optional) Heat a frying pan and pour in the sesame seeds to toast for 30 seconds.
Rinse the beansprouts, grate the carrot, separate the lettuce leaves, and julienne – finely slice into narrow batons – the spring onions and the cucumber.
On a series of plates arrange all the vegetables. Pour the sauce into two bowls, and place the chicken or tofu on a serving dish, and place the noodles and pancakes in serving dishes. Put the sesame seeds in a little bowl.
Then let everyone assemble their own pancakes at the table. Don’t forget lots of napkins, as the sauce drips down chins and fingers.
(If you are making this on a hot summer day, don’t heat the sauce, and allow the chicken and the noodles to cool to room temperature.)
Slice the tofu block in half widthways, and then across the top into thick inch wide long pieces. Place the corn or potato starch into a wide bowl and then tip in the tofu, making sure each piece is evenly covered in the starch.
Heat the oil in a wide frying pan until it sizzles when a piece of tofu is placed in it. Then add all the rest of the tofu in an veny layer and fry until it is golden brown on each side.
Remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain, and follow the rest of the recipe as written above.