Da Pan Ji: “Big Plate Chicken”, a Chinese/Uyghur Fusion Dish

My version of dapanji, with nan bread

Da pan ji (大盘鸡 “big plate chicken”) is one of the few foods that is equally popular among Chinese and Uyghurs. It originates from Xinjiang, but is claimed by neither group: Uyghurs regard it as a Chinese dish, and Chinese regard it as a Xinjiang specialty. Regardless of who originally came up with it, it’s become quite popular in the rest of China and can even be found in Chinese restaurants abroad.

Dapanji_urumqi
Dapanji served in an Urumqi restaurant.

Just like the name, it’s a big plate of chicken stewed in a rich, spicy sauce with potatoes, green bell peppers, and chilies. The star anise makes it amazingly fragrant when complete. There are plenty of variations in the sauce and how it is served: some places serve it with noodles, other with bread, others just by itself. I personally love eating it with Uyghur nan bread to soak up the sauce.

Dapanji_kashgar
Dapanji served in a Kashgar restaurant.
Newnan5
Nan bread is great with dapanji, recipe here.

This recipe is adopted from JadeCw’s recipe on Xiachufang as well as Abdulaziz Salavat’s version.

Ingredients:
Chicken (1-1.5lb, I use dark meat that won’t get tough during the cooking)
Potatoes (3-4 medium sized ones)
Green bell peppers (1-2)
Onions
Chinese fermented black bean sauce (豆瓣酱 doubanjiang)
Chili garlic sauce
Tomato paste
Soy sauce
Dried chilies
Star anise (八角 bajiao, 5-6 pieces)
Sichuanese peppers (optional, a small handful)
Can of beer or Shaoxing cooking wine (optional)
Sugar
ingredients

Directions:
Prep: Chop the potatoes into medium pieces – not too big or they won’t cook through, not too small or they’ll get overcooked and make the sauce starchy. Chop the chicken into small to medium-sized pieces. Chop the green bell peppers into medium-sized square pieces.
1. Heat the wok on high heat and add oil. When the oil has heated, add a small amount of sugar (1-2 teaspoons) and mix well.

2. When the sugar has melted into the oil, put in the chicken and stir fry this until it is browned. The melted sugar will give the chicken a nice golden color.
cook_chicken

3. Put in the onions and cook these until soft and light brown.
cook_onions

4. Add the black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and tomato paste. Add a good dollop of each – maybe 2-3 tablespoons worth. Mix everything well.

5. Salt, and add the dried chilies and Sichuanese peppers, mixing everything well. Add in the potatoes.
cook_chicken3

6. Add soy sauce, add the beer or wine (if you are using it), and add enough water so the broth almost covers everything.

7. Put in the star anise. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to medium. Mix everything well, cover the wok, and let this cook for at least 25 minutes.
cook_sauce2

8. Taste the sauce and reduce if too watery. The sauce should be spicy, aromatic, and savory. Finally, add the bell peppers and let them cook briefly. Dapanji is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day after it has been sitting in the fridge; the flavors thicken and become more complex with time. Ideally, let it simmer over minimum heat for a while before serving. Serve in a big serving plate; you can put noodles or bread on the bottom to soak up the sauce, or serve them separately. Enjoy!
finished_sauce

Dapanji served over noodles.

Shaanxi “Belt” Noodles with Cumin Lamb

Kudaimian1

Shaanxi province lies on the northwestern frontier of China’s “heartland”; the last stop before the Gansu corridor, which snakes northwest between the Tibetan plateau and the Gobi desert up to Xinjiang and Central Asia. Shaanxi food has some clear Central Asian influence: lamb, beef, and cumin are commonly used, unlike the rest of China. You could think of Xi’an (the capital of Shaanxi, and in ancient times the capital of China) as the eastern end of the Silk Road. Kebabs are a common street food in Xi’an, as are fried bread sandwiches stuffed with lamb meat.

Biang biang noodle shop in Xi'an
Biang biang noodle shop in Xi’an with the special “Biang” character

“Belt” noodles (裤带面 ku dai mian) are a Shaanxi specialty. They’re also known as “biang biang mian”, written with a special, extremely complex Chinese character that doesn’t exist in dictionaries (Wikipedia article). Just like the name, they’re wide like a belt and somewhat thick with a good chew to them.

Xi'anBiangBiangNoodles
Biang biang noodles with pork, in the Xi’an noodle shop pictured above

I spent the summer of ’07 in Xi’an and tried this dish in a couple restaurants. Every place selling belt noodles serves it slightly differently; the common feature is red chili powder, garlic, scallion, and vinegar. The noodles are often eaten with no meat at all, but stewed pork, lamb, and beef are common toppings.

New Yorkers will be familiar with Xi’an Famous Foods, who serve a similar dish. I like their food, but I find their noodles aren’t as good as in Xi’an, or homemade. Their cumin lamb noodles are absolutely drenched in oil – while it is an oily dish, their version is way too oily even for me.

This recipe is loosely adopted from 雯婷茜子’s recipe at Meishijie (recipe in Chinese).

Ingredients
For noodle dough:
Flour
Salt
1 egg

For topping:
Lamb meat
Cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Salt
Garlic, finely diced
Spring onion, finely diced
Red chili powder – ideally the somewhat coarsely ground kind where some pieces of seed are still visible. In between powder and crushed/flake form. It’s sold in Chinese groceries.
Chinese black vinegar (e.g. Chinkiang vinegar)
Light soy sauce
Bok choy or other leafy green vegetable (optional), boiled. Bean sprouts, green pepper, and cilantro could also be nice garnishes.

Directions
Noodle making:
1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, and water. Knead well for 10 minutes and let this rest for 1 hour.
2. Make a thick cylinder out of the dough and cut it into smaller pieces.
DoughRoll
DoughPieces
3. Coat these pieces in oil and set aside.
OiledDough
4. Take one of the pieces and flatten it out with a rolling pin.
FlatDough
5. Lift the flattened piece, holding each side, and wave it up and down, smacking with the middle of the dough while pulling gently. You should hear a “thwap! thwap! thwap!” noise. Smacking the dough helps stretch it out. You should end up with a long piece of dough about 1-2 inches wide and very thin.
PulledNoodle
6. The ends you held will probably be a bit thicker than the rest of the noodle, flatten these out with your fingers or the rolling pin. Cut the noodle in half if you like (makes serving them easier).
7. Unlike laghman noodles, these noodles (owing to their flat shape) have a real risk of sticking together even when they go in the water. Either space them out or oil them to make sure they don’t stick.
NoodlesReady
7. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water; after the water returns to a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, the noodles will be done (taste one to make sure). Pour the noodles into a sieve and rinse with cold water.
DrainNoodles
8. Plate the noodles. Some sticking/ripping of the noodles is inevitable. If you can make belt noodles without them sticking together or ripping, I salute you.
PlateNoodles

Topping:
1. Chop up some lamb meat, fry over high heat, and add salt and cumin seeds. Put aside.
CookLamb
2. Finely dice the spring onion and garlic, set aside.
3. Put a dash of soy sauce and black vinegar on each noodle bowl and mix well.
4. On top of the noodles, put the diced garlic, spring onion, and a heap of crushed red pepper in mounds next to each other.
NoodleWTopping
5. Heat some oil until it is very hot. Now, for the magic step: pour the scalding oil directly onto the heap of red pepper. You should hear crackling and smell an aroma as the pepper and garlic is instantly cooked.
6. Top with the lamb meat and any vegetable, if you like.
7. Mix everything well before eating. The hot oil turns the chili powder into chili oil. Enjoy!
Kudaimian3
EatingNoodles