30 June 2011

Big plate chicken (da pan ji - 大盘鸡)

Remember the dish I described at Silk Road as my favourite of 2010? 'A massive pot of savoury liquor - red-brown and with aromatic anise steam rolling off it. The meat is in there on the bone as it some veg and chilli but it's really the flavour of the stock that is so incredible.' Well reader, I stumbled across a recipe for it and of course had to make it quick-sharp.

I had perhaps thought that 'big-plate chicken' was a clunky transliteration Silk Road had made rendering their menu into English. Not so. The classic Xinjiang dish is called Da Pan Ji which really does mean big plate chicken, a wonderfully literal name. Xinjiang is the most western Chinese province and borders the central Asian stans. Its people range in ethnicities and cultures, many are Muslim and of course eat quite different food to the Eastern Chinese diets we may be more familiar with. There is lots of lamb, there doesn't seem to be any soy-bean, it's all about the wheat (both noodles and flat-breads) rather than rice and yoghurt features. Having done some basic reading on it I came to think of it as a cross between the familiar Chinese larder of ingredients and the Turkish one.

Here is an article on the food and culture of the region - From Kebab to Nan (pdf) - and here a site dedicated to the culture of Xinjiang - Xinjiang, Far West China.

You can check da pan ji recipes from Read extensively of healthy lives and Lily's Random Diversions and some debate on the thread Big Plate Chicken/Chicken & Potato on EGullet. The recipe I chose to follow was from Chrisnw6. As ever I made a few tweaks.

First you need to get your chicken into manageable chunks. My chicken was actually a guinea fowl which worked out fine. Trying to chop it up  into chunks on the bone without a cleaver is bloody hard work. In the end I jointed it normally, smashed the thigh bones and cut the breast meat and back part into a few rough sections. The key is to have the meat on the bone - I think it's ok to keep the pieces a bit larger than might be traditional. I also recommend removing much of the skin as it makes the sauce rather greasy.

Then fry the spices in oil: Szechuan chillies and peppercorns, then cinnamon, star anise, bay, cumin and white pepper. Add a bunch of spring onions chopped and plenty of sliced ginger. Add the chicken and brown. Add some tomato purée. Then add carrots and potatos in chunks and cook for a few minutes. When it's all primed top up with water or beer. I used a light larger and a bit of water.

Stew until everything is cooked, adding chopped peppers and onions towards the end and serving with chopped coriander and thick wheat noodles or nan.

OK first of all: it's not as good at Silk Road's version. Quite a long way off actually. But in my defence I've never cooked it before. Secondly though: it is pretty good. A chicken hotpot with a Chinese aromatic heat and a Turkish feel. The potato and carrot make me think of a British casserole, the peppers, onions and tomato of a Mediterranean stew and the star anise and Szechuan pepper of Szechuan and Hunan. It's a pretty great combination.


  1. Everyone watching you cook from the apartments opposite will be inviting themselves over for dinner! :-)

  2. Yeah, nobody has come knocking yet, but maybe one day...

  3. Just so you know, it's actually "Sichuan" not Szechuan.

  4. I know there are two translation, not sure there is one definitive one? Szechuan does seem to be less popular, I picked it more or less at random so maybe I need to have a think..

    1. "Sichuan" uses the pinyin system of phonetics, which is a way better approximation for how the Chinese word sounds. Szechuan is the old "Wade Jiles" system, which wasn't as accurate. It doesn't really matter which one you use, as they're both attempts to make sounds that don't exist in English. It actually sounds like something in between those two. Thanks for this recipe!! I lived in Chengdu, Sichuan province, for a year, and loved eating this at the Uyghur restaurants there (and the greasy, lamby rice with pumpkin!), and I'm going to try this recipe for dinner tonight.

    2. Thanks! I love detailed replies like that. I'll probably stick with Szechuan, but I admittedly have no real reason to favour it..

  5. I tried to download your pdf... but it is missing :(

  6. Hi

    Seems to have moved from the original location - if you scroll through this online portfolio you can see it.