How about starting the New Year with a chicken salad that has a “bang” to it. This chicken is a well-known Sichuan dish and the name means “chicken beaten with a wooden stick”. A theory is if you beat the poached chicken it will expose the fibers in the breast meat so they can absorb the delicious dressing. This recipe suggests smashing the chicken with a wooden spoon and then tearing the chicken meat to shreds. No – I did not beat or smash the chicken but I did tear the meat to shreds with my fingers and worked in some of the dressing – that made sense! I have, however, smacked a cucumber.
This is the best chicken salad you could ever want – there is no mayonnaise, celery or apples. There are layers of flavor beginning with the poached chicken breasts in a garlic/ginger broth and then shredded and tossed with a flavorful sauce made with homemade chili oil, rice vinegar, toasted Sichuan peppercorns and tahini. Sliced English cucumbers give a crispy texture and color and the peanuts provide something crunchy. Just a delightful layering of flavors; salty, sweet, sour, hot and numbing (if you use the Sichuan peppercorns).
This recipe is adapted from Sichuan Chicken Salad by Dawn Yanagihara found in Christopher Kimball’s new magazine “Milk Street” which is his third magazine. Some of you are familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, Cooks Illustrated and Cook’s Country. I have bought some of the cookbooks and subscribed to the magazines in the past but I really like the new format and recipes in this new publication. It is not so “technical” or scientific and is a lot easier to read and understand.
As Christopher states “At Milk Street we introduce a fresh new approach to cooking – the new home cooking. Together, we explore a lively way to cook that’s both simpler and smarter, yet familiar. The new style of cooking is more about layers of flavor, contrast, and combining ingredients in new ways.” This Sichuan Chicken Salad does have all of those qualities.
A new magazine to try for a year…
Tahini and I are not familiar with each other so I spent a little time looking at 6 or more versions at one of my local groceries. Apparently, I bought an unpopular variety even though it was organic and pricey but I did my research after-the-fact! So, I got a little curious about this ingredient and realized the brand could make or break your recipe.
I found an interesting article on Saveur and read that there are two kinds of tahini; light and dark. I am certainly not an expert on tahini – I just like to share my experiences while cooking and the information I find along the way.
Light Tahini is best used in preparations where their pure flavor can shine through and won’t be overpowered by stronger ingredients. “They’re great whisked into classics like hummus, baba ganoush, and halva, as the main component of a sauce for seasoning roasted vegetables, fresh cold salads (like tabbouleh or chopped cucumber, tomato, or bell pepper based dishes), for topping falafel, or for drizzling on grilled or baked fish”. Soom appears to be one of the best examples of a light tahini and sources all their sesame from Humera in Ethiopa.
Dark Tahini often has a heartier, coarser texture, a more pronounced bitterness, and more robust flavor. “Use them in baked goods or chocolate confections, brownies, chocolate truffles or hot chocolate, or mixing it into chocolate chip or shortbread cookie dough – or for drizzling on grilled meats, roasted potatoes, or atop spicy dishes”. Al Arz is the recommended tahini by professional chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi.
Apparently, tahini is one of the latest culinary crazes, according to Zingerman’s Bakehouse. I recently received an email that one of their new classes is “Baking with Tahini”. They source their tahini from Turkey but do not list the brand. All the recipes are desserts so I am assuming a “dark tahini” will be used. Should I sign up for the class as there is one offered every month for the next four months?
Bang-bang Chicken Salad from Sichuan Province, Adapted
- 2 (10-12 oz. bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts)
- 6 scallions, white parts chopped, green parts thinly sliced on a bias, reserved separately
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger; cut into 4 pieces and smashed
- 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
- 2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional – I usually add any “optional” ingredients)
- 2 tbsp. chili oil (start with 1 tbsp.; taste and add more if desired)
- 2 tbsp. tahini (read info above)
- 1-1/2 tbsp. white sugar
- 1-1/2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns (optional) – toasted and finely ground (add to taste)
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise on a bias
- 1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
In a large saucepan place the chicken skin side down and add the ginger, garlic, scallion whites, and 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Add the water and sherry to fully submerge the chicken. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat and let sit until the chicken registers 160°F 15 to 20 minutes. After 20 minutes my chicken breasts registered 140°F so I boiled them a few minutes more. Uncover the pan and let the chicken cool in the liquid for 30 to 45 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the chili oil, tahini, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, 1 tsp. salt, Sichuan peppercorns, if using and cayenne.
Remove the chicken and discard the skin and bones and transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 tbsp. of the chili oil mixture, then use your fingers to shred the chicken while working it into the dressing. Add the cucumber and 3/4 each of the peanuts and scallion greens. Toss with the remaining dressing until evenly coated.
Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and scallions.
Recipe by cookingwithauntjuju.com