I have wanted to make a paleo bang bang chicken for a long time. You might have come across the name bang bang chicken or bang bang shrimp in a hipster fusion restaurant but the name is actually Chinese (Szechuan) in origin. Also known as bon bon chicken, the traditional dish consists of cold, shredded chicken drenched in spicy sesame sauce. The chicken is tenderised by pounding with a heavy wooden stick, and as such, it is claimed that the name refers to the sound of the chicken being pounded.
I actually thought that ‘bang bang’ referred to how good the flavours are – spicy, sweet, sour and salty – exploding in your mouth with a bang. After doing some research, it turns out that bang is also slang for “fantastic” in Mandarin, which is probably closer to what it actually means.
Anyways, this recipe is NOT for the authentic bang bang chicken you find in Chinese restaurants but rather my version of the more modern dish, in which chicken or prawns are deep-fried or crispy fried and served with a spicy sweet (usually) peanut-based sauce. Obviously, there are lots of recipes for the sauce and for how the chicken is cooked, so this is my personal, paleo friendly version.
My partner, and my trusted recipe tester, declared this one of the best chicken dishes I ever made and has requested it for our next dinner party. The word he used to describe the sauce is too rude to share here, so I’ll just say he called it ‘awesome sauce’.
There are two key components to this dish that you have to get right: juicy, crispy fried chicken and the spicy sauce. My secret is to use chicken thighs, as the meat is tastier and more tender than the chicken breast, and to coat the pieces in a simple flour slurry before shallow frying them until crispy. Plus, some delicious seasoning!
The sauce is made with almond butter, aromatics such as onion, garlic and chilli, and my little secret ingredient – coconut yoghurt! Don’t worry, it will be equally delicious with coconut cream/milk but I think the yoghurt adds a little extra tang that works really well here. You will benefit from having a small blender for processing the sauce into smooth consistency, however, chopping everything finely with a knife will work just as fine and will give you a more textured sauce. The recipe makes a little more sauce than you will use in this dish, so save it in an airtight container and enjoy as a dipping condiment with some cut up veggies or as a drizzle over salads or veggies.
The final component is a simple salad, which you can make with whatever vegetables you have on hand. I love using as many colours as possible and to use a little tropical fruit such as mango or pineapple. You can also add fresh herbs like coriander or mint, shredded cabbage, radishes, shaved zucchini and so on. It’s dressed simply with lime juice, salt, and olive oil because the bang bang sauce and the chicken juices will serve as a dressing as well.
You can also serve the chicken over cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles or as finger food at a party.
Coconut oil for cooking
For the chicken
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon white pepper (black can also be used)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1 + 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 + 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
For the slurry
3 tablespoons tapioca flour/starch
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1/4 cup almond milk or coconut milk (water could also be used)
For the sauce
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 small brown onion, diced (or 1/4 large)
1/2 long red chilli, sliced or finely diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, finely diced
3 tablespoons almond butter
2 tablespoons coconut aminos or Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
3 tablespoons coconut yoghurt or cream
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lime
For the salad
1 head of baby gem lettuce, shredded
1/2 long cucumber, sliced into thin strips
1 large carrot, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 yellow pepper, thinly sliced into strips
1 small mango, sliced into thin strips or diced
1/4 cup diced scallions/spring onion
Juice of 1/2 lime
A good pinch of salt
- First, if you can, I suggest marinating the chicken for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. Simply lay the chicken pieces on a cutting board (close together) and sprinkle evenly with all of the spices and salt. Use your hands to massage the chicken meat to make sure the spices are distributed evenly. Leave in the fridge for an hour or overnight and make sure to remove from the cold for 10-15 minutes before frying.
- The next you can make the sauce. This can also be made ahead of time if you’re doing this as part of meal prep on the weekend. Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil, onion, chill and salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring a few times, until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir through over heat until melted and well combined (for about a minute).
- Transfer the sauce mixture to a small blender or a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. If storing in the fridge, simply reheat before serving to thin it out (you can add a little more water if gets too thick in the fridge).
- If not using a blender or a food processor, dice the onions, chill and garlic very finely, so that once the sauce is combined in the pot, you can leave it unprocessed.
Make the salad before you start cooking the chicken. That way all the components are ready for service. Simply cut all the salad ingredients and assemble in a bowl or a large platter. Drizzle with lime juice, sprinkle with a little sea salt and drizzle with olive oil. Set aside.
- Now to cooking the chicken. Make sure the chicken is out of the fridge so it’s not too cold. The first step is to make the flour slurry. Combine the flours with the almond or coconut milk and whisk through until smooth. Add the slurry to the chicken and mix until evenly coated.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (a thin layer) over medium-high heat and once hot add the chicken pieces, one by one, making sure there is a little space around them. I like to use chopsticks for this as you can delicately move the pieces around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes on each side. Use a thin spatula to slide under the chicken, if it feels a little stuck before you turn it over.
- Serve the chicken over the salad platter and drizzle with a few tablespoons of the sauce. Serve extra sauce on the side. I like to also serve some extra green vegetables such as steamed broccoli or snow peas.