Sunday, 12 June 2011

Xinjiang - how to make Dà pán jī

Not surprisingly, Uyghur cuisine is incredibly similar to the cuisine of Central Asia and some of my favourite dishes from Uzbekistan, like plov (pilau rice) and laghman (a kind of stretched noodle) are also staples in Xinjiang.  Of course, a lot of our culture is connected to the food we eat and the food which is eaten in Xinjiang very much depends on who is cooking and eating it!  I tried to find something that was a crossover between Uyghur and Chinese cuisine and stumbled upon Dà pán jī or 'Spicy Chicken Sauté', also know as Big Plate Chicken

It seems to be a Uyghur dish with a Chinese name and I found a recipe on Jamie Oliver's website, of all places - the version I made was based on this.  I must say, it was much spicier than anything I tasted in Uzbekistan and the sheer amount of ingredients in this dish was overwhelming!

The Noodles

I was feeling adventurous at the weekend, when I made this, so I decide to make my own noodles from scratch.  It's not the first time I've made my own noodles, as I also did this when I cooked the Mongolian dish, Tsuivan, back in November 2009!


Soft dough made of flour, water and egg
300g flour
200ml water
1 egg (beaten)
A pinch of salt

I started by mixing the flour, water and beaten egg in a bowl with a pinch of salt.  Then, using plenty of extra flour, I put the mixture on the kitchen counter and kneaded it until it formed a flexible dough.  I then used my rolling pin to flatten the dough to a very thin sheet, which I divided in two and cut into thin strips, by folding the sheets over on each other, putting flour on each fold and cutting the folded mixture lengthways.

Roll the dough out flat

Divide the dough in two

Rest the noodles on a dry tea-towel
I'd watched a video online of a Chinese woman making noodles, then made it up as I went along.  I also saw a video of a man in Xinjiang stretching noodles and then whipping the dough in a circular motion until it formed a long rope-like shape.  I briefly attempted something similar, but the bits of dough flying around my kitchen were enough to convince me to stop and leave it to the experts!

Once I'd cut the noodles, I hung them on a small table, on top of a dry tea-towel and left them to dry, as I got on with cooking the rest of the meal. 

Hey presto!  Home-made noodles!!
When the time came to cook the noodles, I brought a pot of water to the boil and chucked them in.  Amazingly they didn't all stick together or form a gloop at the bottom of the pan, but behaved really well, as noodles from a packet might - the only difference being that home-made noodles are about a hundred times tastier than anything from a packet!

The Spicy Chicken Sauté


You can see most of the ingredients that I used in the photo - except for a can of beer, which I used to boil the mixture.

A veritable feast
200g Chicken fillet (or other parts of the chicken, if you prefer - chopped into bite-sized chunks)
2/3 Bay leaves
Cinnamon powder (or Cinnamon sticks)
White Pepper Powder
Cumin seeds
Ground Cumin powder (Cumin is very popular in Central Asian dishes!)
Fresh Ginger
2 Tomatoes on the vine
1 green Pepper
1 red Pepper (although I left this out in the end, as it was already a lot of food!)
1 Carrot (cut into sticks)
4 red Chillies
1 White Onion (I'd never cooked white onion before, but it was delicious!)
2 Spring Onions (slice the bulbs and shred the stems, or cut them into diagonal slices)
2 potatoes (parboiled and chopped into small pieces)
4 whole Star Anise
Black peppercorns
Fresh Coriander

Prepare the ingredients

I chopped all the vegetables and prepared the spices, putting them on saucers and in bowls, grouped according to which ones would be added to the wok together. 


I heated up some groundnut oil in the wok, then added the red chillies, black peppercorn and sliced spring onion bulbs.  Once these had cooked a bit, I added the fresh ginger and dried spices (bay leaves, cinnamon powder, white pepper powder, cumin seeds, ground cumin powder and star anise).

Next I added the raw chicken, stirring it around in the (increasingly aromatic) spices and cooking it until it was completely white.  Then I added the potatoes and, a few minutes later, the shredded spring onion stems and carrot sticks. 

Add the onion bulbs, chilli and black peppercorns

Add the fresh ginger and dried spices

Add the chicken pieces and cook through
I then poured in a full can of beer and brought the mixture to boiling point before reducing the heat and simmering for 15 minutes.

Add the potatoes, carrots and spring onions

Simmer in beer for about 15 minutes

Finally, once I was convinced that the potatoes were tender enough to slice with a spoon, I added the white onion and chopped tomatoes.  I simmered the whole lot for another ten minutes or so, until the onion and tomatoes had cooked, before spooning the mixture onto a bed of home-made noodles, topping the dish with a handful of freshly-chopped coriander.

Add the tomatoes and white onion

Big plate chicken!

The result was a fusion of Central Asian and Chinese tastes, which went down a treat with my Kalmyk partner!

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me - please feel free to reuse these images, using the Creative Commons license, Share Alike Attribution (especially to this blog) and Non-Commercial. 
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