It must have been a decade ago now that we were at a cottage with friends for the weekend when my girlfriend, who was always a kitchen inspiration and skilled home cook, prepared us all a dish that I was really looking forward to, but that I was sure my picky boyfriend would hate. I had been trying, unsuccessfully of course, to incorporate some Thai and Vietnamese flavours and recipes into our dinner rotation as the meat and potato snorefest I was living in was seriously harshing my cooking buzz. I wanted those perfect layers of flavours, zingy and bright lime and savory fish sauce, crunchy herbs and warm, mouth-buzzing Sichuan oil. Making them for myself was an option, but it’s never as enjoyable cooking for one.
In hindsight, my certainty that he would dislike the meal was purely base on jealously that someone else could actually get him to try, even like, a dish with all these things I’d be trying to incorporate into our meals for so long. The dish, which my friend had found in Food & Drink Magazine, was titled Bang Bang Chicken Noodle Salad. Though I can’t seem to find it in their online archives, I recall that it was a far cry from authentic Bang Bang Chicken which gets it’s name from the sound the mallet makes when beating chicken breasts into submission and cooking them with a Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, sesame seed, Chinkiang vinegar (rice-based black vinegar widely used in Chinese cuisine) and roasted chili oil sauce. This dish was better likened to a Grilled Chicken Salad with a heavy spattering of fragrant herbs, crunchy carrots and cucumbers atop some vermicelli noodles and served with a Peanut-Satay Sauce. Either way, it was delicious and a proper dish to subtly introduce the Asian-inspired flavours to my (then) bland-and-proud man’s palate.
It’s worth noting that nowadays he will generally try and like most things I make. I think a certain amount of trust has to be present when cooking for those who have issues with textures, I don’t make him eat oysters or mussels or expect him to devour a tray of sushi like I can, but push him to try spices and recipes that incorporate already-liked (safe) ingredients or dishes in new ways. If I tell him he’ll like it, 90% of the time he doesn’t hesitate to try it …and the other 10% I’m probably lying. What was that about trust?
We have made this dish in many numbers of ways, as the original salad without the noodles, with a variety of vegetables substitutions depending what’s in-season, with chicken thighs and wings, with spicy Sichuan oil added (for me) and with different varieties of natural peanut butter, almond butter and sesame butter. Each one delicious in it’s own subtle ways, but our favourite is chicken breast chunks marinated in lime, fish sauce and sriracha, skewered and grilled and served in a lettuce wrap filled with herbs and a chunky peanut sauce on the side for dipping or drizzling. It’s got those layers of flavours, the lime and fish sauce together get me every time, and offers a satisfying crunch.
Herby Sriracha Lime Chicken Wraps with Peanut Sauce
makes 4-6 servings
Of course I was out of propane the day I decided to make these so we broiled the meat instead. If you prefer to grill, that is a great option too!
2 large chicken breasts, approximately 2lbs, cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 tsp lime zest
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp sriracha sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
¾ cup creamy all-natural peanut butter
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ cup water
⅓ cup tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp rough chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)
8 lettuce leaves (butter/iceberg/romain, whatever has nice sturdy leaves at the market)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, rough chopped
1/4 cup thai basil leaves, rough chopped
4 scallions, sliced thin
4 baby cucumbers, sliced thin
8 skewers for chicken (if using wooden, soak for 30 minutes in water before using)
FOR THE CHICKEN
Set oven to broil and move your tray to the top third of the oven. In a bowl or container, toss the chicken with the marinade ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge. Take out 10 minutes before you’re ready to cook. Skewer all your chicken – we used 8 skewers that were half-filled. You’ll need 4-8 total.
Hang the skewers over a baking dish so they don’t touch the bottom – we used a square brownie tray so that skewers reached each side without making contact with the bottom dish. This helps them cook more evenly. If you prefer to just place on a baking tray, be sure to check a large piece of chicken for doneness before serving. Broil for 5-6 minutes on each side until meat is cooked through and charred in spots.
FOR THE PEANUT SAUCE
Using a mortar and pestle, combine all the ingredients except for crushed peanuts and smash, rub, pound until the sauce is creamy with some chunks. Add the crushed peanuts and stir to combine. Let sit, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Organize a large serving tray with the skewers, piled lettuce leaves and some dishes for herbs and cucumbers out and let everyone assemble their wraps the way they like them. Serve with extra lime and sriracha sauce.