Bang Bang Chicken . . . spicy chicken like they serve at The Cheesecake Factory

     My Chef's Table column in the fall 2014 issue of Sunflower Living Magazine featured Linda Payne of Salina, Ks. and her recipe for Bang Bang Chicken. To see Larry Harwood's fabulous photos, the magazine's layout + the full story, go to Explosive Home Cooking (Linda Payne), Sunflower Living Magazine, fall 2014, pp. 24-27. 
     The recipe below is as it appears in the magazine. Some of the info that follows the recipe was included in the article; other parts were omitted due to space constraints. 

This spicy dish is similar to the Bang Bang Chicken at The Cheesecake Factory. For those who might be put off by the addition of fish sauces in the recipe, Linda assures, “You will never know they’re in the dish, yet they add to the layers of flavor.”
PREPARATION TIME  - Approximately 15 minutes

PREPARATION TIP — Everything happens really fast after the chicken is browned and the onions and peppers are sautéed, so Linda recommends gathering all ingredients and having them by the stove. She even has cans and jars open so they are ready to add to the wok or sauté pan.
Linda also adds, “Amounts are variable so adjust the ingredients to your own taste or preference.”

¼ cup vegetable oil
1 pound chicken breast, diced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
½ onion, julienned
1 cup broccoli, florets
¼ cup water chestnuts 
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk
4  tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce 
2 teaspoons chicken base
10 large basil leaves
¼ cup whole cashews 

1.  In a wok or sauté pan heat the oil on medium high heat; add the diced chicken and lightly brown.
2.  Add garlic, bell peppers, onion, broccoli, and water chestnuts. Stir-fry 4 to 5 minutes.
3.  Dissolve 1 tablespoon Thai green curry in the coconut milk and add to pan.
4.  Add soy, oyster, fish and oyster sauces + chicken base. Extra Thai green curry can be added at this point for more heat if you desire.
5.  Simmer until chicken is completely cooked.
6.  Remove from heat and add basil leaves and cashews.
Serve with jasmine rice.
Variations: If you want to significantly increase the heat level of this dish, add 2 teaspoons sambal (very hot Vietnamese chili sauce) and some sliced jalapeno peppers in step #4. 

What about the name?  — New cadets are always enticed by Bang Bang Chicken. “In the beginning I think they select it from our menu offerings due to its unique name,” Linda speculates. Legend has it that Bang Bang Chicken was traditionally served in China by street vendors who used batons to hammer the chicken for shredding. Linda’s version has a Thai twist and simply starts with cut up chunks of chicken, no hammering involved.

Key to some of the ingredients in this dish:

All of these ingredients are available locally in most grocery stores.
·    Coconut milk is made from simmering one part shredded coconut in one part water; once stirred, it has the liquid consistency of slightly thickened cow's milk. However, don’t be confused with other coconut products including coconut water—the clear, natural juice you'll find if you crack open a coconut, or thick and rich coconut cream—made by simmering four parts shredded coconut in one part water.
·    Fish sauce is an amber-colored liquid extracted from the fish that have been fermented with sea salt.
·    Oyster sauce is made by slowly simmering oysters in water until the juices caramelize into a thick, intensely flavorful condiment. Its flavor is described as  sweet, salty and earthy.
·      Thai green curry’s base ingredients are coconut milk and fresh green chilies; a variety of other fresh and dried herbs and spices add to its sweet but somewhat pungent flavor to this paste. Thai green curry also adds a mild level of heat to any dish.

Nutritionally Speaking — Since many of the cadets participate in sports, Linda calculates and posts the calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, cholesterol and sodium in main dish servings. Here’s her breakdown for 1 serving of Bang Bang Chicken:
Calories 339 / Protein 18g / Carbohydrates 48g / Fat 7g / Cholesterol 31mg / Sodium 774mg

Rice Cookery — Linda also offers up the perfect way to cook jasmine rice, a white sticky long-grain rice with a slightly sweet taste and nutty aroma: Begin by rinsing rice under water; Linda recommends three rinses and notes, “Even then it won’t be clear; some starch will still remain making the rice sticky.” Drain rice. Add 1 cup of rice to 1 ½ cups of water or broth and a pinch of salt to a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, uncovered; stir once, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Do not remove lid. Remove from heat and allow to set, covered, for 10 minutes. Yield: 3 cups. 

Behind the scenes; literally the back side — Larry Harwood (on the counter) and an assistant (holding lighting equipment), set up a shot of Linda Payne as she cooks at her stove.

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