Shanghai Chicken with (really good!) Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce

Shanghai Chicken, in all its sesame-encrusted glory!

A couple of days ago I have implemented a new way to organize things I plan/want to try cooking.

I’m well-known to think about eleventeen things at one at any given moment, and as such, often have brilliant ideas (at least I think they are brilliant at the time!), which I may forget half an hour later (not always, but it happens).  Most of those oft-forgotten ideas had to do with things I’d heard about/seen on the net/once eaten and wanted to cook and find/create a recipe for, and losing them seems like such a total waste.  So what did I do?  I have simply created a spreadsheet with column headers named (in order):  date added, name, date cooked, photos?, blog?, comments, and cheerfully filled in about a dozen recipes off the top of my head.

It’s not an entirely original idea – I think Deb at Smitten Kitchen wrote about having a list at some point, and a spreadsheet seemed like the best way to keep track of things (hey, it’s sortable by columns, yay!).  Anyhow, one of the first recipes to go on this list was a recipe for Shanghai* (see note at end) Chicken by Jo – because I love main courses that feel like snacks, and because I had recently bought a generous bag of raw sesame seeds and this seemed like one of the perfect ways to use them.  Oh, and I love Chinese food.  Not sure I’ve mentioned that enough!

Half a tsp of Sichuan and 2 tsp pink pepper pounded with 2 tsp sea salt

Of course, I had to tinker with it – mainly because I wasn’t about to cook for 6 people, and also because I had to remove egg whites and spice it up more to my taste.  That, and I am not a huge fan of ready-made sweet chili sauce, so I improvised one and it knocked the socks off any you can get outside of Southeast Asia.  (I haven’t been to Southeast Asia, but it definitely beat any I’d had at restaurants in the West!)  So, if you have a couple of chicken breasts in your fridge or freezer and want something Chinese but don’t want to order takeout, this is your ticket – it turns out tender and moist inside, with a slight crunch to the sesame seeds, and all over spicy and aromatic and delicious!  Oh, and it’s really easy to make, to boot!

What you need (feeds 2 hungry people):

  • 2 large chicken breasts (mine include the inner filet), about 400-500g total  (fresh or defrosted – defrosting them in a bag submerged in lukewarm water works fine for me)
  • A generous supply of sesame seeds.  I think I’ve used about 1dl of them in total, but I was really generous with them, and dredged the chicken instead of sprinkling.
  • Neutral frying oil of your choice – not much, enough to make a layer about 0.5-1cm thick in your pan (pans vary so not giving quantities) for shallow frying
  • Some greenery, cucumber, fruit to serve with.  Or if you are a really big eater, a bit of steamed rice really won’t go amiss.
  • Batter Ingredients:
    • 1 egg yolk + 3 tablespoons of water OR 1 whole large egg (if you aren’t like T and aren’t allergic to egg whites)
    • 2 tablespoons light to medium soy sauce (I think using dark mushroom soy would be entirely overkill here)
    • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
    • 2 scant tablespoons of plain flour
    • 1-2 tablespoons of chopped dill, fresh or frozen (I chop and freeze excess fresh herbs for later use, and frozen works fine here!)
    • 2 flat (or 1 heaping) teaspoon of sichuan and pink peppercorns pounded or ground with sea salt.  I pounded mine in a mortar, then measured out the 2 flat teaspoons.
Sesame, batter-coated chicken, and sweet chili sauce
  • Sweet Chili Sauce Ingredients:
    • ~50 ml (4 very generous heaping tablespoons) orange marmalade
    • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
    • 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
    • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1 crushed garlic clove or 1/2 tsp garlic granules/powder
    • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (or more to taste)

How to do it:

  • Mix all sweet chili sauce ingredients except for sesame oil and set aside.
  • Mix all the batter ingredients – liquid first, adding starch and flour and then spices until uniform.  Set aside.
  • Slice chicken breasts into strips (I separated the mini-filet, removed any tendons from it and the breast, and sliced the rest of the breast into 3-4 strips each)
  • Give the batter a stir and put all the chicken into it, then turn and mix with your hands to coat it properly.
  • Stir the sweet chili sauce and mix sesame oil in.  It is now ready.
  • Pour cooking oil into a pan and preheat on fairly high heat, but not until smoking.
  • Pour sesame seeds onto a flat plate.
  • Place an ovenproof dish or plate in the oven and set it to 150°C.
  • Pick up chicken strips one by one, dip them on all sides in sesame seeds and place into the very hot oil.  Fry them in batches (for 2 chicken breasts worth of strips, I did 2 batches), so that they don’t crowd the pan or stick.  Flip them once or twice to make them evenly golden on both sides.
  • Remove cooked chicken into the dish in the oven and repeat with other batch(es).  Let chicken stand in the warm oven for a couple of minutes while you arrange greens and such on the plates.

Take chicken strips out and arrange on plates.  Serve with sweet chili sauce and some fruity white wine or your choice of tea.

Try not to be so all-encompassingly absorbed by munching that you forget to turn the oven off like I did, only to have T find it a couple of hours later and curiously ask me if it’s still on for a reason.  Doh!

*Note:  After looking around on the net, it became apparent that the dish is not in any way of Chinese origin, but most likely a dish invented by a Chinese restaurant in the West to suit Westerners and the Western idea of Chinese food.  I’m just including this note to make sure no Shanghai residents get offended or anything – I make no claims of authenticity here, just that it is plate-and-finger-licking delicious.  But you know, you may want to use the knife and fork if you are in public…

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6 thoughts on “Shanghai Chicken with (really good!) Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce

  1. That looks great. You have a real talent for plating.
    I keep a menu log of everything I cook for dinner, along with notes on how it was, what could be improved, etc. It’s especially helpful in menu planning.

    Thanks for writing your blog. It’s great!

    1. Thank you, coming from a professional chef, this means a lot. Funnily enough, I’m more or less self-taught… though the art school may have helped with plating! ;)

      And you are very welcome! Glad to see it appreciated, and I’ll try to keep it up!

  2. I like the disclaimer at the end :D
    Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve had this dish before but then I haven’t been to Shanghai, so who knows. Looks super tasty (love sesame seeds, oil) and crunchy.

    1. I try to not upset people, and you know how internet is – you claim something without checking, and before you know, there’s a horde of angry people yelling at you about how you are WRONG! So, if I don’t know, I try to make sure I don’t make claims. Peace of mind and all! :D

      Also, next time I think I might put it in a shallower dish in the oven, or on a rack, because the lower ones in the pile lost the crunch a little – but it is definitely a sesame addict’s heaven!

      And yes, to quote something I’d read (and don’t remember where… need more coffee!), it “satisfies the daily crunchy food group”!

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