Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken (Dapanji, 大盘鸡) | Sarah Ting-Ting Hou
Published Apr 25, 2019, Updated Oct 22, 2023
Big Plate, Big Flavors
While dapanji is not a Sichuan dish, Big Plate Chicken, as it’s translated in English, is very much at home in Chengdu and has several ingredients in common with Sichuan stews and braises. It gets a bit of heat from Sichuan pepper and doubanjiang but also shows its Xinjiang roots by featuring smoky cumin and fat wheat noodles.
This recipe was created by Sarah Ting-Ting Hou, a restaurant professional who moved from Beijing to Nashville a couple years ago. Like all Chinese-food lovers here, she has to get most of her cravings satisfied at home. She’s uniquely up to the challenge, having grown up in her parents’ Chinese restaurant in New Jersey, written about food for Beijing magazines, and worked in the Chinese capital as a restaurant consultant. Now she’s planning a noodle and dumpling spot here, where she’ll transport a little of Beijing to Music City.
By Sarah Ting-Ting Hou—One of the best things about living in China’s capital for eight years was that the city offers all of the regional Chinese cuisines. On top of a range of northern Chinese food, Beijing also has stellar Cantonese and Sichuanese and at least one shining restaurant example of food from every corner of the country. The region that intrigued me the most during the first few years I lived in Beijing was Xinjiang. This cuisine is not like the others.
Xinjiang is the westernmost part of mainland China, designated an autonomous provincial region. Populated mostly by minority groups including the ethnically Turkic and religiously Muslim Uyghurs, it does not sit easy in China and lately has been in the news as Beijing has cracked down on its autonomy. But that’s not our focus here—other than to remember that no matter how China’s leaders feel about Xinjiang, China’s people love its food.
Xinjiang cuisine is a mashup of Chinese flavors and cooking techniques with those of multiple Central Asian countries and ethnic groups, often featuring lamb instead of pork and drawing on produce, herbs and spices local to the area. Known best for its grilled lamb skewers, rice pulao (pilaf) and naan-type bread (a doughy and fluffy unleavened bread called nang 馕), another favorite at Xinjiang restaurants in Beijing is dapanji (大盘鸡), which translates to Big Plate Chicken. This is a braised chicken stew, saucier than your average stir-fry but not as liquid as a soup, that’s served with noodles and covers protein, vegetables and carbs all in one big plate of full-flavored, full-bodied comfort.
There are varying origin stories for this dish. Uyghur locals claim that it’s not actually from Xinjiang but is a part of Hui cuisine, with influences from a Sichuan migrant. Nevertheless, this is an iconic dish that can be found on every menu in Beijing’s Xinjiang restaurants.
Big Plate Chicken is a shared dish and is typically ordered by the half or full plate, with or without noodles. First comes the bubbling plate of chicken with soft potatoes and crunchy peppers. After some of the big plate has been eaten, servers come by your table and throw in thick and chewy hand-pulled wheat noodles that soak up the sauce.
Like other western Chinese cuisines, Xinjiang uses Sichuan pepper to add a tingle to its food. Unlike most other Chinese cuisines, it also features cumin heavily. This dish is no exception, the cumin mingling with Sichuan pepper and warm spices including star anise and cassia. Cooks in Xinjiang may or may not use chili bean paste in the sauce, but most restaurants outside of Xinjiang will throw in a bit of doubanjiang for umami heat. The goal is not Sichuan-style heat but merely a boost of chili warmth and Sichuan pepper buzz.
Big Plate Chicken is usually made with a whole chicken that has been broken down into small pieces, but the thighs are the best because they are juicier than chicken breasts. So I recommend using whole thighs that have been cut through the bone with a meat cleaver (by you or your butcher) into bite-size pieces. Or you can also use boneless chicken thighs for convenience.
In home cooking, the stew is usually plated on top of a bed of wide wheat noodles. Homemade noodles would be best, of course, but Chinese markets in the U.S. increasingly offer noodles that are up to the task. (As of late 2022, The Mala Market carries a dried knife-cut noodle, or daoxiaomian, that is an ideal base for this festive chicken stew.)
This is the version of dapanji I created in my kitchen in Nashville from my taste memories of my days in Beijing. Big Plate Chicken travels well.
Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken (Dapanji, 大盘鸡)
- 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 4-5 chicken thighs, preferably bone-in, cut in large bite-size pieces (cut with a meat cleaver or have butcher do so)
- 3 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
- 1½ tablespoons Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
- 2 teaspoons Chinese dark soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
- 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 6 slices of ginger
- 3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
- 6 whole dried Chinese chilies
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 4 star anise
- 3- inch piece cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 pound white potatoes, roughly chopped into 1-1 ½ inch pieces
- 1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 8 to 12 ounces fresh or dried wheat noodles (wide is traditional)
- Marinate chicken pieces for 20 minutes in marinade ingredients: soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil and cornstarch. In a separate small bowl mix sauce ingredients: 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, Pixian doubanjiang, dark soy sauce and Shaoxing wine.
- Heat wok over medium flame and add 3 tablespoons oil. Add garlic, ginger, scallion whites, dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, star anise and cassia and stir around until mixture becomes fragrant, for about 2 minutes, making sure that it doesn’t burn.
- Turn heat up to high and add marinated chicken. Stir-fry until chicken is partially cooked and starting to take on some color, making sure not to burn the spices.
- Make a well in the center of the wok, add the sauce mixture and cook briefly. Add 2 cups water, mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover wok and simmer for 10 minutes for bone-in chicken (5 minutes if using boneless). [Recipe updated Feb 2022, reducing water from 3 cups to 2 cups, which will make plenty of soupy broth for noodles; add more if needed.]
- Add potatoes to the wok and return to a boil. Lower heat, cover wok and simmer 5 minutes. Taste, and add salt if needed. Add bell peppers, cover wok and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook noodles according to package directions, aiming to have them done just as the stew is done.
- If you would like a thicker consistency to the stew, mash a few of the potatoes with a fork. Just make sure to retain enough sauce for the noodles!
- Transfer hot noodles to a large wide plate or bowl and cover with the chicken stew. Garnish with scallion greens and serve immediately.
Tried this recipe?
Note from Taylor: I made Sarah’s recipe in a giant “full plate” version (photo at top), because I have a hungry teen to feed. I used big chunks of bone-in thigh and leg, thickened the sauce less and added extra noodles. Since it’s a braise, a wok can handle a large portion, and this recipe expanded easily. We absolutely loved it and are moving it into permanent rotation.