Did Panda Categorical Simply Invent the Subsequent Orange Hen?

Did Panda Categorical Simply Invent the Subsequent Orange Hen?

Every time I’m going to a significant shopping center, it’s normally to return one thing I purchased on-line, and I time my go to with the bottom site visitors, near closing time … or dinnertime. As a result of it doesn’t matter what enterprise brings me to the mall, I’ll all the time make a beeline for crucial client determination of the day: rooster teriyaki or bourbon rooster?

On Lengthy Island, I grew up on these usually warring samples. They have been handed out aggressively again then, with hawkers eagerly passing out bites of rooster on little toothpicks with the immense confidence that in the event you tried it, you’d purchase it. And as I graduated from mallrat to an grownup who may, you already know, afford to purchase meals, I discovered they weren’t mistaken. After years of their conditioning, I expertise a Pavlovian response to sugar-sauce rooster, all sticky and wealthy.

So yeah, after I heard that Panda Categorical was branching out with a brand new Blazing Bourbon Hen at solely 50 areas nationwide and that six check areas have been within the American Chinese language meals desert that’s Atlanta, I certain as shit jumped on the possibility to style it and report again.

What’s bourbon rooster?

Panda Categorical calls this a “Southern traditional” within the press launch. Having solely skilled it in mall meals courts, I affiliate this dish with char-grilled boneless, skinless darkish meat rooster swimming in a darkish, soy-based, ultra-sweet, medium-viscosity sauce that tastes far more of sugar than bourbon of any form.

A lot to my shock, it really does have Southern roots. It’s a Cajun-themed dish allegedly named after Bourbon Avenue in New Orleans, the place I’ve by no means even seen it on a menu, regardless of having lived in that metropolis for half a decade. It’s additionally categorized as American Chinese languagewhich tracks. As Woks of Life aptly places it, although, it’s actually neither—it’s “an American creation, fusing a number of cultures in a selected time and place,” making it as “genuine” as Normal Tso’s.

All of that makes Panda Categorical, essentially the most well-known mass producer of American Chinese language meals, the right model to usher in a brand new interpretation. And calling it a brand new interpretation is an understatement, for the reason that new Blazing Bourbon Hen resembled no model of of the dish I’d ever had earlier than.

Hot Ones Blazing Bourbon Chicken at Panda Express

The warmth degree on Blazing Bourbon Hen is listed as “medium.”
Photograph: Su-Jit Lin

Panda Categorical’ Blazing Bourbon Hen, defined

There are some things Panda Categorical selected to do in a different way with its Blazing Bourbon Hen. The primary is commercializing and capitalizing on traits, a selected ability of this California-based quick meals chain. The lede on this rollout is that it’s a collaboration with Scorching Onesa wildly profitable YouTube sequence that challenges celebrities to eat sizzling wings as they’re being interviewed. Scorching Ones has had a busy couple of years stuffed with partnerships, together with collaborations with Reebok, Scorching Pocketsand Shake Shack.

For Panda’s distinctive take, flame-grilled rooster chunks are swapped out for crispy, breaded boneless darkish meat rooster, not not like what you’ll discover as the bottom of the now ubiquitous Orange Hen that Panda Categorical invented. Based on chef Adrian Lok, Culinary Innovation Lead at Panda, these selections have been totally intentional—it’s not meant to be an anticipated model of bourbon rooster.

“We developed a brand new crispy rooster impressed by Taiwanese popcorn rooster,” Lok explains, the higher to “collect warmth” for the model’s spiciest dish to this point.

There are additionally added greens on this bourbon rooster—one other first in my expertise. And Panda steers arduous into the “swicy” development, tossing the rooster and veggies in a soy sauce, honey, and garlic mix with not less than a touch of actual bourbon (allegedly) and the signature Scorching Ones™ Final Dab Apollo sizzling sauce. Then proper earlier than it hits the show line, it will get a sprinkle of sesame seeds on prime.

All of those components are extraordinary. By no means have I ever had a spicy choice for bourbon rooster, a lot much less one already bathed in sizzling sauce. In different phrases, we are able to throw away all the things we thought we knew about bourbon rooster. Per Lok, the model spent two years of analysis and improvement to show the dish upside-down for a “distinctive spin” on “regional American Chinese language specialty dishes within the Southern U.S.”

Blazing Bourbon Chicken from Panda Express, before and after a bite

Inspecting (and tasting) the Blazing Bourbon Hen
Photograph: Su-Jit Lin

What does the brand new Panda Categorical Blazing Bourbon Hen style like?

For this style check, I bought to skip the effort of the mall I so strongly related to bourbon rooster—a significant plus. I went to a elaborate, super-modern free-standing Panda Categorical in Kennesaw, a suburb northwest of Atlanta. It was glowing clear and spanking new; as quickly as I pulled up, I believed, Oh, it is smart {that a} new menu merchandise is launching right here as a substitute of an historical meals court docket.

After I arrived on the finish of dinner rush, we have been all the way down to the final dregs of Blazing Bourbon Hen and new batches have been being fired up. I opted to attend for the contemporary batch, and within the meantime I ordered my different meals court docket should, rooster teriyaki, plus some sides I used to be informed I’d must dampen the warmth of this Scorching Ones collab.

Certain, I believed skeptically, having been by way of many quick meals “sizzling” challenges (rooster sandwiches and extra rooster sandwiches, Devils and ghost peppers galore) with tastebuds totally intact and barely scalded. However after I noticed the coarsely chopped dried chili peppers sprinkled all through the dish—peppers that have been not disclosed within the bulletins—I felt a faint spark of hope. Certain sufficient, that spark become a flame when, in true Chinese language takeout fashion, I dug proper into the paper container and felt the warmth as I chomped right into a pepper on my first chunk.

In the event you’re acquainted with Sichuan meals, which makes use of dried sizzling peppersyou’ll acknowledge the slight burn these capsicums lend to the sauce they’re tossed in, and the daring, smoky warmth you get with direct contact. What I personally love about using these chilis is the choose-your-own-adventure component: They’re large enough to be conveniently avoidable in the event you’re delicate to spice, and dry sufficient that their warmth doesn’t take over the sauce. You may choose in, reduce, no matter. Or not less than that was simple to do with my contemporary batch, for the reason that peppers solely had a 15-minute automobile experience to seep into the sauce. I think about {that a} batch sitting on the restaurant for some time may develop more and more spicy.

Talking of that automobile experience, I used to be impressed that the rooster managed to remain crisp till I bought it residence. It wasn’t overly breaded, as I’ve complained about with Panda’s Orange Hen and Honey Walnut Shrimp. The contemporary inexperienced bell peppers and onions have been additionally crisp, extra on the uncooked facet than crisp-tender. Personally, I didn’t thoughts that; the pepper on this state was a refreshing strategy to take some edge off the warmth, and the chunk of the half-cooked onions helped lower by way of the richness of the titular bourbon sauce. Which brings us to what is perhaps crucial part: the sauce, which, true to the advertising and marketing, actually is exclusive to Panda Categorical.

Think about a bourbon-laced Southern barbecue sauce, barely smoky however not too candy. Then add a wholesome dose of soy sauce taste to it, sufficient to skinny out the consistency one would anticipate of a barbecue sauce, however not a lot that saltiness jumps to the forefront. Then layer within the chili oil extracted from the dried peppers, simply sufficient to slowly creep warmth onto the outer edges of your lips as you go in for extra. Neglect that there’s sizzling sauce in there because it’s utterly camouflaged, then remind your self that sesame seeds are extra for adornment than taste. That’s the sauce.

There was loads of it, so I ended up pouring it out onto a plate in order that my final bites wouldn’t be utterly doused. However even with this measure, by the tip of the meal I used to be a saucy, sticky mess with a half-numb mouth. I used to be additionally very happy being in that state.

The Chicken Teriyaki tasted one-note by comparison, so I mixed it into the Blazing Bourbon Chicken, to excellent results.

The Hen Teriyaki tasted one-note by comparability, so I blended it into the Blazing Bourbon Hen, to wonderful outcomes.
Photograph: Su-Jit Lin

Must you purchase the brand new Blazing Bourbon Hen at Panda Categorical?

So, is Panda’s Blazing Bourbon Hen higher than old-school bourbon rooster from the mall meals court docket? It’s not an apples-to-apples comparability. On this dish, Panda Categorical actually did create one thing new and totally different. It’s far more multidimensional than the vast majority of the chain’s menu staples, which are inclined to go heavy on the sugar and both soy or oyster sauce, a real fusion of American and Chinese language consolation meals. But when the query is “Would I order this once more?” then the reply is a convincing “sure.” Convey the warmth.

And if you wish to be part of me, do it earlier than January 2, 2024. Along with Atlanta, the Blazing Bourbon Hen is now accessible at choose areas in Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Arizona, California, Virginia, New York, Washington, and Washington, DC. The supervisor revealed to me that the rooster is already the quantity 3 best-seller on the location I visited, simply behind the Orange Hen and Hen Teriyaki.

I appears like Panda may need successful on its (sticky) arms. With Blazing Bourbon Hen, maybe the chain has launched yet one more new American Chinese language dish to the zeitgeist. Right here’s hoping.

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