It was my Birthday a couple of weeks ago and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. By the way, if you're Wellington-based and looking for a nice low-FODMAP friendly restaurant, Apache is great. The food is unfailingly good and largely low-FODMAP friendly (or close enough), by virtue of being Vietnamese/fusion/ish.
I had the Bang Bang chicken salad and have been researching it ever since, trying to work out what makes that particular flavour, and why the name? When you initially Google Bang Bang Chicken salad, you get a lot of recipes written by white people, mysteriously featuring many of the same ingredients that I use all of the time - things like peanut butter, sweet chilli sauce, ginger and soy. Now I acknowledge that I am a white person, trying to create a recipe that you will try out. But, despite the fact that I don't know anyone that wants to go out and buy five new ingredients every time they try out a new recipe, if making 'Bang Bang chicken salad' just means remixing some of the ingredients I use all of the time into a salad and calling it something different, I am not interested. I may as well just make my peanut tofu noodles and call it a day.
Sometimes you just need the simple recipes to get you through the week, but other times (especially for those of us on limited diets) you need the wild, new, inconvenient flavours to inspire you. And even though I am another white person putting recipes on the internet, I hope to bring a bit of authenticity back to the Bang Bang Chicken. At least as much authenticity as the internet can offer...
I found this great website China Sichuan Food, that explains that in Chinese they call it Bon Bon chicken (which may have helped me to find a more authentic recipe sooner...) It's called this because after you have poached the chicken, you bash it with a rolling pin! This tenderises the meat and makes it easier to shred. The other thing it explained is that the Sichuan pepper is the key flavour - that is the inconvenient ingredient that was missing from many other user-friendly recipes.
The two ingredients that you may not have in your cupboard are Sichuan pepper and black vinegar. I found these easily and inexpensively from Moore Wilson (a speciality grocery store if you're not a Wellingtonian), but I think you'd also find them easily at an Asian food store. Don't be afraid! Try something new!
Bang Bang Chicken Salad with coconut curry dressing
350g chicken breast
2 cups water
thumb-sized piece ginger, sliced
1 spring onion stalk, green part only
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn powder (I bought whole peppercorns and ground them)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black vinegar
1.5 tsp brown sugar
2 cups finely sliced green cabbage
1/2 medium capsicum, finely sliced
1 good handful sprouts (I used a spicy mix but alfalfa or even just pea shoots or mung beans work well)
2 spring onion stalks, green parts only
1 carrot, grated
handful mint leaves, picked off stalks
handful coriander leaves, picked off stalks (save the stalks and use them for the poaching liquid!)
1/2 cup rock melon (or mango if you tolerate that)
3/4 cup cucumber
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp fish sauce
1 /2 tbsp peanut butter
Place the chicken, water, ginger and spring onion in a frying pan on a medium heat and cover. Once it reaches a gentle simmer set a timer for 15 minutes, turning the chicken over half-way through this time. Cut a little slice into the chicken to check that it is cooked through - give it a little more time if needed. Set this aside to cool. I cooled the chicken in the poaching liquid for maximum flavour, and then saved the liquid for cooking brown rice in, which I served with the salad. Never throw delicious things out!
While the chicken is cooling, stir together the Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.
Next is the fun part. Wrap the cooled (it just needs to be cool enough to handle) chicken in a clean tea towel and give it a few medium pressure whacks with a rolling pin. I didn't have a rolling pin so I used the handle of my knife sharpener. Something heavy that won't break is what you're after. When the chicken looks a bit squashed and is starting to break apart, finish the job off by shredding it with your fingers and placing it in a bowl with the marinade. Toss this together until all of the chicken is brown with the sauce and set aside to marinade until serving. If this is more than an hour or so, put it in the fridge - but make sure you get it out half an hour before serving so you're not eating super cold chicken, as you'll lose the flavour!
The salad part is a bit more free-form, I tossed together the above ingredients with a little lemon juice and added some chilli flakes for extra spice. You can play around with the salad ingredients depending on what you have, what you like, and so on.
Finally, make the dressing. Mix together coconut milk, peanut butter, fish sauce and curry powder. I served this on the side so that people could decide how much dressing they wanted. As mentioned above, I served the salad with brown rice, you could also have it with sticky rice or vermicelli. YUM.