Bang bang chicken is so popular at The Ivy, the London restaurant can’t take it off the menu.
Fernando Peire, the celebrity restaurant’s director, tried once more than a decade ago, when head chef Gary Lee decided to rework the classic originally developed by their former chef Mark Hix. Peire thought it would be a good idea to rest the dish for a month or two before it returned in its new incarnation.
First, customers started complaining, then the e-mails began to come in, and finally UK's Campaign magazine published a Christmas wish list that included the return of bang bang chicken. Peire relented and it’s now an immovable dish, like the Ivy shepherd’s pie.
It is a starter that combines sweet childhood memories of peanut butter sandwiches with balancing acidity and chili heat plus the complexity of Asian flavors. It’s a dish that I always order but I have never previously attempted to make.
I didn’t find it difficult. The recipe serves six as a starter, but I just cut the quantities by half and ended up with a couple of mains. For the photograph, I made one small plate that I thought looked pretty, but that is not how I really eat.
350 milliliters (12 fluid ounces) chicken stock
10 lime leaves
30 grams (1 ounce) of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 sticks of lemongrass, bashed
100ml coconut cream
3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
1 red chili, halved
4 skinless, boneless, free-range, organic chicken breasts
100g smooth peanut butter (The Ivy uses Skippy)
1 tbsp hot chili sauce (look for a good-quality brand such as Lingham’s)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
Finely grated zest of ¼ lime
30g unsalted roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
2 large carrots, finely shredded
50g mooli (radish), finely shredded
50g mangetout (snow peas), finely shredded
1 bunch of spring onions (scallions), finely shredded
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
For the chicken, in a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil with the lime leaves, ginger slices, lemongrass, coconut cream, soy sauce and red chili. Add the chicken breasts to the boiling stock, cover with a cartouche (disc of baking parchment) and reduce the heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is firm and no longer pink inside. Remove from the heat and leave the chicken to cool completely in the poaching liquor.
For the peanut sauce, soften the peanut butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or for 20 seconds in the microwave. Whisk in the chili sauce, followed by the sunflower and sesame oils, pouring in a thin stream and whisking constantly. Once the oil has been added, whisk in the lime zest and crushed peanuts. Keep this at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
For the salad, put the shredded carrot, mooli, mangetout, spring onions and bean sprouts in a bowl, add the lime juice and olive oil and mix together. Leave to stand for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables a little. Meanwhile, shred the now-cool chicken breasts. (The leftover poaching liquor from the chicken makes a wonderful base for a fragrant chicken soup, so do save it.)
When ready to serve, divide the salad between six plates and top with the shredded chicken. Spoon the peanut sauce over the chicken and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
This story first appeared on Bloomberg.com and has been lightly edited for style. Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg.