Bang-bang Chicken Salad from Sichuan Province

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

Linking my salad to Angie @ Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts Diann @ Goats and Greens and Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life

Sauce ingredients…

44 thoughts on “Bang-bang Chicken Salad from Sichuan Province

  1. The salad looks so tasty! I love such dressings with tahini. It adds such a wonderful, nutty flavor. I prefer the more robust flavored ones, but actually don’t like it in baking, as I find it overpowering. But it’s really a matter of personal preference.
    I use and highly recommend this tahini:


  2. This does indeed sound like a different and delicious chicken salad. My husband just got me a subscription to Milk Street…it seems like a good magazine.


    • Thanks Karen – it’s a good recipe from the poached chicken breasts to the dressing. I bought a few issues of Milk Street before finally subscribing. It has a different twist and so far I am enjoying it – hope you will enjoy it too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had no idea there are two kinds of tahini, and my use of it is limited to hummus. Had I known you can use it in baking and stuff, I may not have tossed my last can (the one I find in my grocery store comes in a can) and I would have definitely let it occupy my fridge longer if I had this salad recipe! It sounds amazing, Judi! I’m pinning it right now!

    Btw, our cohosts are Diann @ Of Goats and Greens ( and Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life. Sorry for the confusion!


    • Thanks Angie – I have not used tahini much but one thing led to another and I found out all this info. on this latest “culinary craze”. There are reasons a recipe might not be so good! Now, I have two varieties to work with – I threw out the one that got bad reviews. There’s a difference in where it’s made too, some even come from the US and then of course the quality of the seeds 🙂


  4. This looks to be a tasty recipe, and I would even like the chicken breast! Sounds like the meat seriously could absorb some great flavors treated this way. Getting hungry (and I just ate breakfast)!

    As for the Milk Street magazine, I’ve seen a copy or two at a friend’s. Debating getting my own subscription, and it is likely I will do so.

    Thanks for sharing at Fiesta Friday!


    • Thanks Diann – there are other ways to get the full flavor of the sauce but working it in with my fingers really worked. I have a number of Kimball’s cookbooks and also have subscribed to the other two magazines and I think he’s got something with this new magazine – I like it so far 🙂


  5. I noticed that when I buy tahini, I sometimes get more bitter than the other. I love tahini, but never knew that there is such thing as light and dark. Hmmm…

    Thank you so much for another “lesson”, Aunt Juju. I always learn something new from you. 😀 And this salad looks absolutely wonderful. I’d eat anything with tahini. Happy FF!


    • You’re quite welcome Jhuls – I learned something too and love to share my experiences especially with someone like you who really appreciates it 🙂 The salad was great even though I picked an unpopular brand of tahini! Happy FF!


  6. You crack me up, “but I have smacked a cucumber…” This salad sounds marvelous! My mouth is watering. I have cooked with tahini but didn’t know much about it. I also appreciate learning about Chris Kimball’s new magazine. I’ve seen it advertised but was on the fence. Now I think I’ll try ii.


    • Good Mollie – you need humor when you’re cooking 🙂 I can’t imagine smashing chicken, but working the dressing in with my fingers did make sense. By the way smacking a cucumber works – just not too hard LOL I’ve subscribed to the other two magazines in the past and so far I like this magazine a lot. It’s worth a year’s sub.


  7. Bang-bang is such a fun name. I’d like some please! Thanks for the pointers about tahini, Judi, I didn’t know there were two kinds of tahini. What an interesting way to use it, I would have never imagined tahini in a Sichuan dish. Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks Shinta. I guess for this recipe to be “authentic” you would need to use Chinese sesame paste instead of tahini. This recipe is a new style of cooking about layers of flavor, contrast and combining ingredients in new ways as I mentioned above. It’s just a new version of an old Sichuan dish. Happy FF!


  8. I never knew why it was called bang bang chicken 🙂 Loved reading about it and about you smacking the cucumber 🙂
    I absolutely love your recipe and cannot wait to make it. the magazine and classes sound wonderful.


    • Bang Bang is actually referring to the mallet that is used to pound the chicken. Tearing the chicken to shreds while working in the dressing makes a lot of sense 🙂 I’m enjoying the magazine and I probably will not take the class as the recipes are all desserts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I could almost hear that mallet when I read your post. The flavors would get so well infused too. I will stick to shredding the chicken and rubbing in the flavors too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sure the sherry in the chicken took it up a notch? Great ingredients Judi, I’m sure it was a very satisfying end result. I think Elaine is the Tahini Queen, she uses it in a lot of her dishes.


  10. I fell in love with Bang bang chicken the first time I had it and what a delicious recipe! Have you tried to make your own tahini?


      • Hi Judi
        I toasted white sesame seeds in a dry pan, let them cool and placed them in the blender with extra virgin olive oil. Blend until fairly smooth. Try it is you have sesame seeds, it was delicious but am sure there are other versions to try as well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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