Jan asked for Central Asian barbecued chicken—at our house this means Uyghur. However—do to the scarcity of fuel—the Uyghurs would never barbecue chicken. A signature dish of the Xinjiang region is Big Plate Chicken (Da Pan Ji). I decided to adapt the flavors of this usually wok sautéed dish into a barbecue sauce for the grill.
The Uyghars do barbecue lamb skewers—as a street food—but the pieces of meat are so small that they cook in only a few minutes, not the hour that it would take a large piece of chicken to cook through. I decided that if they were to barbeque chicken they would put it on skewers.
While Wikipedia says this dish was created in Xinjiang in the ‘90s by a Sichuan cook—missing the flavors of home—I remember it being on the menu in Kashgar in 1989. I researched seven recipes I found online for this recipe to figure out what the common ingredients were. I found that most recipes included: dried chilies, Doubanjiang, garlic, ginger, green onions, Shaoxing wine, Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, and star anise—although the quantities varied wildly. I would take this to be the minimum basic recipe for a da pan ji sauce.
Note: Less common ingredients included: cumin, bay leaves (I assume Indian bay leaves), cinnamon, salt, sugar, and tomato paste. Beyond these ingredients individual recipes included such additional things as: Amomum tsao-ko, beer, black cardamom pods, chili garlic sauce, chili oil, and black rice vinegar.
Choosing my own ingredients/per portions and a radically different cooking method, I planned out my recipe. The original recipes called for potatoes, noodles, or Uyghur naan as the starches of choice to go with big plate chicken—or my own reasons, I am making challah. I am also serving carrot salad, and a tomato and cucumber salad as side dishes. Since it was her birthday, Jan made mousse.
After Dinner Note: Eilene, “This is the best dish you have made in nine months…of your new dishes.” Miriam’s praise was more physical—scooping up the sauce from the serving plate and sopping it up with challa—“Mmm, umami!”
Karl’s Barbecued Big Plate Chicken (Da Pan Ji)
Karl’s Big Plate Chicken Barbecue Sauce
1 tsp. cumin
5 whole dried Chinese tien tsin chilies (see note in below, Step 2, about controlling the heat)
1 Tbs. Sichuan peppercorns, separate uses
2 star anise
4 cloves garlic, minced (omited)
6 coin slices of ginger
1 Indian bay leaf
1 inch cinnamon stick
¼ cup Chinese light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 Tbs. Shaoxing wine
2 Tbs. dark soy sauce
2 Tbs. chili bean paste (doubanjiang)
¼ cup green onion tops, sliced thinly
1+ cup chicken broth
1 whole chicken or 2-3 lbs. chicken parts
2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbs. water
1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ cup cilantro, chopped
1. Toast the cumin and place it in a spice grinder.
Note: To toast to not to toast that is the question. You may have noticed that some recipes call for toasting seeds like—like cumin—to “bloom” their flavor. Other recipes call for simply tossing them into the pot. My rule of thumb is are they going into a dry or moist cooking environment. If I am using a dry rub that is going to be exposed to direct heat—on the surface of the meat—I do not pre-toast the seeds because they will burn when exposed to more heat while cooking. If I am putting them into a sauce where the seeds will never get exposed to the heat necessary to bloom their flavor I toast the spices.
2. Seed and tear up the chilies, add them to the spice grinder.
Tip: Not everyone likes really spicy foods. For a mild dish remove all of the chili seeds. For a spicier dish add back as many of the seeds as you like—I used a quarter teaspoon of seeds. For a really spicy dish add as many whole chilies as you like—one recipe called for using half a bowl full.
3. Add half of the Sichuan pepper to the spice grinder and process the spiced to a fine powder.
Tip: Much of the flavor of Sichuan pepper is from a volatile oil—that is cooked off by heating—the numbing element of “numb spice.” Save half of the pepper to sprinkle over the dish after you have finished cooking, to preserve these oils.
Note: These volatile oils start evaporating as soon as you grind the peppercorns—they are actually citrus fruit pods, which was why they were banned in the U.S. for years. Keep your Sichuan pepper whole, until just before you plan to use it.
4. Put the powdered spices and the rest of the sauce ingredients—star anise, garlic, ginger, Indian bay leaf, cinnamon, soy sauces, sesame oil, shaoxing, doubanjiang, green onions, and chicken broth.
Note: Because of Miriam I left out the garlic. However her condition is such that she can eat the green portions of green onions. You, of course, are free to use whole green onions.
5. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes.
Note: You want to end up with about 2 cups of sauce when you are finished.
6. Remove the meat from the bones and cut the chicken into ¾ inch pieces.
Tip: While I used a whole chicken, feel free to use all breast meat or all thighs.
Note: I used the bones to make chicken bone broth.
7. Put the chicken in a seal-able gallon plastic bag.
8. When your sauce is done pour off about one cup and reserve.
Tip: You want most of the solids—star anise, ginger coins, bay leaf, etc.—to remain in the pot.
Note: I put the reserve sauce in a lidded jar to put in the refrigerator.
9. Pour the remaining sauce—solids and all—over the chicken pieces.
Tip: Seal the bag and toss gently to cover all of the pieces with the sauce.
10. Press the air out of the bag, reseal, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Tip: Overnight is better.
Note: Flip the bag over occasionally, to redistribute the sauce evenly.
11. An hour before you are ready to start barbecuing, remove the chicken from the refrigerator to warm to room temperature.
Tip: The chicken will grill more evenly if it is not cold from the refrigerator.
12. Cut the bell peppers into ¾ inch pieces and string them on bamboo skewers.
13. Skewer the chicken pieces and place them on a tray, with the bell peppers.
Tip: If using both light and dark meat skewer them separately. When grilling place the dark meat skewers on the hotter parts of the grill. Most grills will be slightly cooler at the front edge and hotter at the back.
Note: Remove the solid bits—star anise, ginger coins, bay leaf, etc.—as you put the chicken on the skewers.
14. Build a bi-level fire in your barbecue.
Tip: For gas grills: Turn on all of the burners for five minutes on their highest setting before cooking and then turn off one side.
15. Place the chicken skewers and bell peppers on the hot side of the grill and close the lid.
16. Let the chicken sear for 7-8 minutes and then flip them over.
17. Sear the second side for another 7-8 minutes, covered.
18. Transfer the skewers and peppers to the cool side of the grill.
Note: Close the lid once more.
19. While the chicken is grilling, put the reserve sauce into a small pot and bring it to a simmer.
20. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and cook the sauce until it has thickened, about two minutes.
Tip: Keep the sauce warm, but do not let it burn or boil away.
21. After 20-30 minutes, check the internal temperatures of the several of the skewers.
Tip: Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest piece of chicken on several skewers.
Note: You want an internal temperatures of 155º F.
22. Transfer the skewers to a tray and wrap them in foil.
Note: The skewers will continue to cook to a safe temperature of 160º F.
23. Remove the chicken from the skewers onto a deep serving plate.
Note: If you prefer, you may lay down a bed of noodles or boiled potatoes in the plate before adding the chicken. Alternatively you can make your own naan.
25. Remove the bell peppers from the skewers and scatter them over the chicken.
Tip: You may toss them gently to mix some of the peppers into the chicken.
25. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, so that it covers each piece of chicken and peppers.
26. Garnish with the cilantro and serve warm.