This is an easy and excellent recipe. It’s called big plate chicken (大盘鸡, dàpánjī) which literally means “a big plate of chicken.” The name probably won’t stimulate the imagination, but I guarantee that the spices will. It’s another dish from the Xinjiiang region so you will find the expected flavors: cumin, chile powder, Sichuan pepper, fresh hot peppers, and savory goodness; you’ll also find the expected mashup of culinary traditions.
While I was thinking about what to make for dinner tonight, I recalled a conversation I had with my friend Eric about potatoes in Asian and Chinese food. We had just shared a Burmese recipe for a potato curry, and it was so good that it seemed only right to stick with the theme for a while, and this seemed like a perfect next meal. This recipe comes from where China meets central Asia, where stir-fry meets curry.
To be true to Xinjiang tradition, forego the rice and serve this dish with a big bowl of tasty, chewy noodles. You will love this.
For the marinade (if using boneless chicken):
- 1 egg white
- 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (substitute dry sherry)
- 1/2 tsp potato flour
For the noodles:
- Udon or broad noodles
- Boiling water
- 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
For the Xinjiang dry spices:
- 1 Tbsp whole cumin
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to desired level of heat)
- 1 tsp Sichuan pepper corns
- 1 tsp black pepper
For the chicken:
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- 1 whole chicken hacked into bite-sized pieces (with bones), or substitute 1.5 lb chicken thighs cut into large but bite-sized pieces
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1″ ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 green chile, sliced (Serrano or jalapeño)
- 1 red chile, sliced (jalapeño or Thai)
- 4 whole star anise
- 4″ cassia bark, snapped into 1″ lengths (substitue cinnamon)
- 2 large potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2″ slices
- 5 green onions, sliced on the diagonal into 1″ lengths
For the sauce:
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 cups water
- If using a whole chicken, ignore the marinade and ignore the rest of this step. If using chicken thighs, then place in the marinade for about 20 minutes, then parboil for 1-2 minutes and drain.
- Lightly roast the Xinjiang spices in a dry wok until fragrant and just beginning to brown, then grind roughly.
- Cook the noodles in the boiling water, soy sauce, and sesame oil until chewy. Then drain and keep warm in a serving bowl. You can toss with a drop or two more sesame oil to keep them from sticking together.
- Heat your wok until it just begins to smoke, then add the peanut oil and swirl to coat. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes until it begins to brown on the edges. Next, add the garlic, ginger, and chiles; stir-fry for a minute or so. Add the star anise, cassia bark, and Xinjiang dry spices.
- Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Then add the potatoes and cook until just done, perhaps about 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the potato slices (don’t let them get soft). When the potatoes are done, stir in the green onions and then serve right away in a big bowl or deep plate.
The noodles should accompany the big plate and can be eaten with the meal or used afterwards to sop up the tasty sauce.
Variations: The most important decision is whether you’re going to use a whole chicken with bones, or boneless parts. Chinese people love bones with their chicken: the bones add flavor since the meat closes to the bone is extraordinarily juicy, and the bones add fun to the meal since you have to navigate around them. Another variation is the quantity of the sauce; for a drier dish, tightly control the water so that as much water boils off as possible by the time the potatoes are done.
The first time I had this, it was 7 years ago in Lanzhou’s hot summer. I knew it’d become one of my favorite Chinese dishes and these days it’s still competing with hotpot (火锅) when every time I’m in a mood of eating super spicy and yummy.
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