Kung Pao Chicken

Please welcome contributor Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic as he shares one of his favorite go-to Chinese (American) dishes, Kung Pao Chicken. ~Elise

Kung Pao Chicken (also known as Gong Bao or Kung Pow) is probably the dish most associated with Chinese food in America. This dish is also one of the most authentic dishes on the menus of Chinese restaurants and owes its fiery flavor to two particular ingredients: chilies and Szechuan peppercorns.

The chili peppers most commonly used for Chinese cooking are Tien Tsin chilies, named for their provence of origin. They’re quite hot and possess an earthy pungency. Szechwan (or Sichuan) peppercorns were actually banned by the FDA until 2005 due to their potential to carry citrus canker. Now they’re permitted for import but only after they’ve been heat treated. Rather than being hot or pungent, they’re slightly citrusy and create a slight numbing, tingling sensation as opposed to the burning, hot sensations of peppers and chilies (think the tingle on your tongue from a carbonated drink). You can find both in Asian markets or order them easily (and cheaply) online as a little goes a long way.

If you like spice then this is your dish. You can use any red dried chilies and the Szechwan peppercorns are optional, though the dish isn’t the same without them and there isn’t a good substitute. Like any stir-fry this is quick, cheap, and flavorful. It’s also an exemplary example of Szechwan cuisine due to its combination of sweet, sour, salty, and hot tastes. Serve with rice and a hearty dark beer.

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of Szechwan peppercorns (optional)
  • 8 red, dried chili peppers
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 2/3 cup of roasted, unsalted peanuts

For the marinade

  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch

For the sauce

  • 3 teaspoons of Chinkiang or 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch

Method

1 Mix together the marinade ingredients. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces and toss them in the marinade and set aside.

2 Combine all the ingredients for the sauce, whisking well to ensure the cornstarch is fully incorporated. Set aside.

3 Thinly slice the garlic. Break the chilies open and discard the seeds inside, then cut them into a few large pieces (the dish will already be very hot, keeping the seeds will make it near inedible).

4 Place the 2 1/2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the chilies and Szechwan peppercorns if using. Stir-fry for a few second until they become fragrant being careful not to burn them. Add the chicken, as soon as the pieces have separated add the ginger, garlic, and green onions. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

5 Add the sauce and toss. When the sauce becomes thick add the peanuts, toss, and serve.

Hello! All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on Simply Recipes. Thank you!

Links:

Szechwan Peppercorns on Wikipedia
Szechwan Peppercorn Ban Ends

21 Comments

  1. MaryMoh

    Kung Pao Chicken is indeed very popular among the Chinese. I cook it very often too. Yours looks very delicious.

    Thanks! A more traditional sauce usually calls for light and dark soy sauces, however using whatever you have on hand is fine too. ~Garrett

  2. Robin

    Thank you so much! The only stir-fry recipe I know and like calls for hoisin sauce, which I can’t get where I live. I think I can find most of these other ingredients, or reasonable substitutes, here.

    Perfect! Yeah, a lot of these ingredients have “American” counterparts, save the Szechwan peppercorns which you can order online for pretty cheap. ~Garrett

  3. Renee

    Oooooh! This sounds very good! I love cooking Chinese food! We have a bottle of sake that has been waiting for something like this.Thanks!

    This is a very strong flavored dish. I would suggest saving the sake for dessert or pairing this with beer as, assuming it’s a more delicate sake, it’ll be annihilated. ~Garrett

  4. Susan

    Of necessity we are a peanut-free household. Is there a tree nut that could replace the peanuts without changing the final dish too much?

    Thank you.

    Cashews are an option. You can also switch the chicken out for pork, beef, shrimp or even firm tofu if you wish. ~Garrett

  5. Gary

    Looks yum! Is Shaoxing rice wine the same thing as Mirin?

    No. Shaoxing is more like sherry. ~Garrett

  6. YingYing

    I always enjoy your posts on Chinese food. The almond cookies recipe was very popular at the dinner parties!

    For Kung Pao Chicken, I think adding some diced celery gives a nice flavor. And my family just LOVES spicy dishes, we keep the seeds in!

    For this dish I wouldn’t keep the seeds in, especially if you use Tien Tsin chilies. They are almost up there with scotch bonnets and if you use eight of them with the seeds the dish will be inedible. ~Garrett

  7. Jesse

    Hello. I’ve seen this recipe before and have made it also, but the question I have is about the Szechwan peppercorns. Is it better to grind them up, because when I made this in the past the peppercorns were very hard and bitter and change the flavor of the kung pao? I like the kung pao recipes that don’t use hoisen or plum sauce. The soy based sauce is more traditional.

    Good question, Jesse. In this recipe use them whole so they deliver a more pronounced, singular flavor when you get a bite of one. Furthermore, since they cook in the oil a bit some of their flavor is evenly distributed throughout the dish. ~Garrett

  8. Mark L.

    Looks great, one question: toasted or plain sesame oil? Thanks.

    Any high heat sesame oil should be fine, though more often than not that will mean untoasted/cold pressed. ~Garrett

  9. Ann

    This looks great. I think I may make it tonight. Can I ask one question, though? Are the chili peppers the dried ones or fresh? There is such an assortment at our market, I don’t want to buy the wrong kind. Thanks.

    Dried. Thank you for asking! ~Garrett

  10. Chuck

    What a wonderful recipe! I read it to my wife this AM. We bought the ingredients today, and prepared it for dinner tonight. It was great! On a scale of 1 to 10, we rated it a 10. Only comment would be that it didn’t seem as hot as you indicated, but then again, my wife and I like hot. It was warm in our opinion. Good job. Enjoyed it very much. Bring us more! Chuck

  11. Mary

    Kung Pao Chicken was one of our favorite dishes when we lived in China (Shaoxing, coincidently. The rice wine factories were very interesting), although we never actually ate it in Sichuan. Anyway, this looks like a very authentic, easy recipe. Thank you!

  12. Chuck

    Hate to keep bothering you, but now know why it had no heat. Read the last comment asking about the peppers, and you said to use dry peppers. We used fresh peppers. Will try it again with the dried peppers!!! It will surely be hotter, I am positive. You may correct my original message. Thanks, Chuck.

  13. Julie

    Made this tonight, but without the Szechwan peppercorns. I couldn’t wait to make this dish so I tried it without, although I will be ordering them and make it again! But even without them, my family and I ate this up! The kids loved it (I made some without any heat at all, just the marinade and sauce for them) and the flavor was spectacular both ways. Can’t wait to try it with the peppercorns. Thanks for the awesome recipe that is going in my permanent file!

  14. Christine@Christine's Recipes

    It’s a great recipe. This Kung Pao Chicken is our family’s all time favourite chinese dish. I cook it very often in summer because it goes really well with steamed rice. When it comes to cooking this dish, the Szechwan peppercorn seem not to be very essential, but the dried chili pepper is a must. The crunchy peanuts always become the focal point of my enjoyment, adding more texture into the dish. Very often, I’d pick all the peanuts to eat first.

  15. Kris

    Hi! I made this last night and I have to say I was disapointed. The marinade had great flavor and the sauce had great flavor, but together it didn’t taste quite right. It was a little bitter. Too much ginger maybe? I’ve had the peppercorns forever. Do they get old? Oh well. We still ate it!

  16. Gail

    Is there a substitute for the corn starch?

    Potato starch. ~Garrett

  17. Elizabeth

    I have fond memories of eating Kung Po chicken in Nigeria in the nineteen eighties — the only dish in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant that was any good. Probably because chicken, peanuts and hot peppers are Nigerian staples, and there were no vegetables to go soggy. But I just made your version, and it was MUCH better. Thank you for improving on my memories.

  18. Nadine

    This Kung Pao recipe was great. Wonderful flavors–and not at all gloppy like some Kung Pao can be. Also, you’re right, the Sichuan peppercorns do add something.

  19. Foodrepublik

    Great recipe! I live in China and Kung Pao chicken is one of my favorite dishes. This recipe looks pretty authentic. I prefer to use ground Sichuan peppercorns though, as the whole ones are quite overwhelming if you happen to get a few in one bite. One question about the ChinKiang vinegar – is that black vinegar, red, or just plain white rice vinegar…or something else entirely?

    ChinKiang is a black vinegar. ~Garrett

  20. Mary Kay

    Delish and doable as always. I used cooked chicken and I only had to buy the fresh ginger – great meal!

  21. L & S

    My husband and I spent three months traveling in China last year. With the help of an iPhone application called China Menu (http://chinabites.com/iphone/pressrelease/), we frequently ordered Kung Pao Chicken. Since returning, we’ve tried the dish at several restaurants and it has always seemed a little off. This recipe is fantastic! We just made it with the peppercorns. We like our food spicy, and it was perfect. The best Kung Pao we’ve had in the U.S. Thanks.

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong